Computer-shy CPI-M now logs on to Facebook

By Pradipta Tapadar, IANS
Thursday, December 2, 2010

KOLKATA - Their party was once vehemently against the introduction of computers and modern technology in India as it would mean loss of jobs for the proletariat, but West Bengal’s ruling Marxist leaders are now swearing by the revolutionary reach of social networking sites like Facebook.

With the state gearing up for assembly polls next year, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is eager to reach out to as many people as possible, particularly the younger generation.

“It is a social networking site. I use it to remain in touch with my friends and comrades. It’s true that I may be tagged in someone else’s album. It is true to an extent that it is being used as a means of propaganda and communication,” admitted Students’ Federation of India (SFI) state secretary Kaustav Chatterjee, one of the young faces of the party. SFI is the student wing of the CPI-M.

Front-ranking party leaders like Sujan Chakraborty, Moinul Hassan, Samik Lahiri, Manab Mukherjee and state Industry Minister Nirupam Sen are regular visitors on Facebook.

The site is not only being used to reach out to the young generation but also to serve as a podium of propaganda against archrival Trinamool Congress and its chief Mamata Banerjee.

The wall of Manab Mukherjee’s Facebook account, for example, includes articles related to the alleged Maoist-Trinamool violence against CPI-M workers, and a picture of Mamata Banerjee chatting with the pro-Maoist tribal body People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) convenor Chhatradhar Mahato.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, the CPI-M was burning with ideological fury against computers, saying it was a bourgeoisie conspiracy to take away jobs from the hapless proletariat.

But the party, which has ruled Bengal since 1977 and was famously derided for being “on the wrong side of history”, has taken a remarkable U-turn. The CPI-M now showcases the information technology sector as a success story in its industrialisation efforts.

With the CPI-M-led ruling Left Front going through tough times following a series of electoral debacles recently, the communists are leaving no stone unturned to rebuild their dwindling support base. Even if it means camping on digital highways.

However, leaders maintain that joining Facebook is their personal decision and there was no party diktat.

“It’s not a party decision, it’s my individual decision to join Facebook. I am using it as an effective tool of two-way communication where the young generation can reach out to me and I can also reach out to them,” state Tourism Minister Manab Mukherjee said, taking pride in his friend list of 104.

“I do have a Facebook account, but frankly speaking I don’t have much time to visit the site. I do it for personal reasons. But I think if we can use Facebook as an effective communication tool, then it will be really helpful,” CPI-M state committee member Sujan Chakraborty told IANS.

State committee member and former Lok Sabha member Samik Lahiri said he used his Facebook account primarily to stay in touch with friends, but sometimes people ask questions regarding current issues.

Kaustav Chatterjee agreed that Facebook is partially used for political campaigns, but claimed his party had never opposed computers per se.

“But it is not true that we were against computers. At that time we had said we are not against computers, but automation should not trigger a layoff,” said Chatterjee, whose profile album has pictures of the slain comrades of the CPI-M.

Analysts say CPI-M leaders joining social networking sites was a welcome development, but it was too late.

“It’s good they have now realised that computers are not our enemy. If you see the current situation, the CPI-M boasts of the IT sector, which is based on computers. But I don’t feel they’ll be able to attract the young generation by joining social networking sites,” noted economist Dipankar Dasgupta told IANS.

“The younger generation has seen the CPI-M from its birth and the anti-incumbency factor is highest among the group. So the Marxists will not reap dividends by canvassing through sites like Facebook. Actually, it’s too late for the CPI-M,” political scientist Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury told IANS.

(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at

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