New Delhi: The General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Prakash Karat is the new hard face of the Left.
When an ageing Harkishen Singh Surjeet stepped down as the CPI-M General Secretary to make way for a relatively young Prakash Karat in April 2005, it was hailed as a generation-next take over.
For a party long used to having veterans at the helm the appointment of Karat CPM's fourth General Secretary represented a significant generational shift.
A committed communist and a professional politician, the 59-year-old Karat is seen as more rigid and ideologically rooted than his predecessors.
In fact it is widely believed that it was Karat's tough line that denied Jyoti Basu the chair of the prime minister in 1996.
What's more, the CPI-M's constant tussle with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on economic and foreign policy has only confirmed that Karat is a hardcore Marxist who will never dilute his party's ideological moorings.
"At no time has the CPI-M and the Left been able to influence policies at the national level as it is happening today. We have said that we do not want a hastily formed third front that will be premature and that will not last," Karat had said sometime back.
Married to party colleague Brinda, who became the first woman member of the Politburo in 2005, Prakash Karat was drawn into the Left movement in the 1960s, as a student in the Madras Christian College.
He later went to the University of Edinburgh where his anti-apartheid protests resulted in his rustication for a while.
His next stop was the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi where he founded the Students Federation of India and later joined the CPI-M in 1970.
He was later elected to the CPI-M's Central Committee in 1985 and the Politburo in 1992.
Besides being a Marxist ideologue, Karat has written and edited three books.
But while he may be a great scholar, the silver-haired Marxist, is yet to prove himself as a master politician.
Karat took over the reins of his party at a time when the CPI-M along with the three other Left parties were giving crucial support to the UPA government.
However, the last two years have, some would say, have only exposed Karat's lack of political skills suited for the new age coalition politics, an art that his predecessor, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, so well and truly mastered.