IT Revolution Brewing In CPM

Kolkata: | Updated: Sep 22 2003, 05:30am hrs
The don of the free software movement, Mr Richard Stallman, was invited to the headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) when he visited India earlier this year.

Mr Sitaram Yechury, Politburo member, says that the party is actively promoting Linux, the open source code operating system, in managing the partys data and information base in the state and the central level.

The CPI(M)s Kerala and Andhra Pradesh states committees have started using Linux as PC operating system and subsequently all the state committees will follow, Mr Yechury told FE.

In West Bengal, the bastion of the Left in India, the ruling CPI(M) has quietly put in place a state-wide network of PCs with party headquarters here putting analysts to work on loads of data.

These two instances show how far the Indian Left has progressed from the Luddite reaction against machines in the early seventies, to its perception of the digital divide as just another instance of inequality.

For the CPI(M), the bottomline is clear: machines, particularly semi-intelligent machines like computers, enhance the productive and knowledge power of an institution, in this case the party.

Along with the Left governments agenda to make the state a leading IT destination, the party has taken an ideological stand of ending the digital divide just as it is committed to end class division.

So, in the last few years, the state unit of the CPM has made conscious efforts to use computers extensively in the party work across the state.

Although the CPMs state committeethe partys largest base with 2.25 lakh members against the national tally of 8 lakhhas yet to formulate a Linux strategy unlike in some other states, it is using IT to manage its voting machinery and administrative functions.

When asked to comment on the absence of Linux, top party functionaries only said that they were looking at it. However, this could be because of the presence of Microsoft in many IT projects of the government.

The West Bengal unit of the CPM has a total database of election results from 1952 onwards for each assembly and parliamentary seat and even down to the gram panchayats and civic wards.

Using a statistical package, the party is in a position to understand the voting pattern in the state for every constituency and gram panchayat seat. However, in an irony of sorts, the computerisation programme has been put under Mr Chittabrata Majumdar, the veteran secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the CPMs labour wing.

Said Mr Majumdar, We are using computers in various applications of party work. One of the areas that we are using computers is to plan and monitor the movement of leaders during our election campaign. The software programme developed by our own computer specialists who are also our party members is helping us to move important leaders from one constituency to another.

Another area where the state committee will have software application soon is the income-asset statement of each of the state committee members. At the district level, according to Mr Majumdar, most of the committees have started maintaining the membership list in the computer.

The district committees have computers to record the basic information level from maintaining the membership record, fees and in some place documenting of the minutes of the meetings, he said.

In the state headquarters of CITU, there is an accounting package that takes care of membership fees. We have stopped using hand-written slips and payment ledgers. It is now all computer generated, said Mr Majumdar.

The level of computerisation in the state and district-levels till now did not percolate down to the zonal and the local level, admitted Mr Majumdar. But this is a continuing process and we will try to bring the technology to make the work process more manageable.

The CPI (M) is a well-connected party primarily through mail, fax and telephone. At the state level, all the district committees are connected through phone and fax, some are also connected through email to the state headquarters.

At the central level, all the state committees are connected with Delhis AK Gopalan Bhavan through email.

Said Mr Yechury, We use mail and CDs to exchange data and information. For large size information, we use CDs.