Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The CPI(M) in Kerala

                V.S.Achutanandan is out of the reckoning in the CPI(M) at long last. VS, as he is addressed in party circles and outside in Kerala, is most likely to fade out of the political discourse soon and he should blame himself for that. And if Prakash Karat, the party’s general secretary, expressed hope at the party rally that VS will return and remain with the party, it was more of a courtesy that he chose to show; something that is unheard of in the history of the communist party. Well. The CPI(M) had treated VS with kid gloves for too long and if the party does that even now, it is probably because the party feels this a better way to ensure that VS loses his credibility among fellow travelers outside the fold who look up to him. It makes sense to the party to do this with elections to the State assembly due in about 15 months. In a State where victory margins in assembly constituencies are thin, the party could not have thrown him out and helped him with the halo of a victim. And by not quitting the party, even at this stage, Achutanandan seems to have helped the CPI(M)!  
The developments during the three-day conference of the Kerala State unit of the party in Allapuzha involving the veteran leader (perhaps the only one of the 32 central committee members who walked out of the CPI to found the CPM in 1964 who is alive now) seemed to bring down the curtains for the absurd drama that was on for over a decade. From a time when the party’s rank and file would dismiss any talk of faction feuds in the party as propaganda by the bourgeois press, things had changed in the past decade; there was no denial of factions in the party and the high point of that was when VS, as Chief Minister played an active role in the setting up of a CBI enquiry against Pinarayi Vijayan, secretary of the party’s state unit in the SNC Lavalin deal. The faction feuds also played out elsewhere. A section that was opposed to the party’s decision to establish relationship with Abdul Nasser Maddani (known for his fundamentalist positions and rabid communal politics) and most of them were thrown out of the party.
Although VS was known to have played up the opposition to this within the party, because it was against Pinarayi Vijayan’s line, he simply watched their expulsion; it was rather a purge that happened in the party units from the Malabar region. A sessions court found card holding members of the party guilty of murdering one of their former comrades.  T.P.Chandrasekaran, one of those who had left the party to build the Revolutionary Marxist Party, in Badagara was hacked to death. The CPI(M), under Pinarayi Vijayan’s leadership, held out that the judiciary erred in finding the accused, among whom there were active members of the party, in the Chandrasekaran murder case. VS, meanwhile, joined the slain leader’s wife in a dharna seeking justice. All these had left the situation from where it was impossible to reconcile between the warring leaders. But then, VS was also aware that the party’s general secretary and the central leadership had chosen to side with Vijayan against him. The party Congress in Kozhikode (the 20th congress held in 2012) bore evidence of this if it was not clear earlier.
VS had chosen his battleground outside the party for a even earlier. He had secured his candidature from the Malampuzha constituency in 2006 using means that were unheard of in the party’s history. The CPI(M), under Pinarayi Vijayan, named him as candidate in response to street protests across Kerala. And VS persisted with this since then. He probably expected such a groundswell of support to him and demonstrations at the venue of the State conference in Allapuzha after he walked out of the venue within hours after the event began and the media glare it received. But then, the size of the rally on day three of the event proved him wrong. And the fact that he prevaricated all the while and did not even resort to a symbolic gesture of quitting as Leader of the Opposition, only proved his own well wishers outside the party were justified in their apprehension: That VS will not take the plunge. It should be a matter of time before the party asks him to quit as Leader of Opposition in the Kerala State Assembly; lest they expose VS to ridicule in the House!
In this backdrop, it is pertinent to raise some relevant questions. First, it is not the first time that the communist party in general and its Kerala unit in particular has witnessed such division? The answer is in the negative. After the party won the first ever elections to the Kerala Assembly in 1957[1] and set a debate in the Marxist discourse on the Parliamentary road, the party split in 1964 leading to the formation of the CPI(M) had a huge impact in the State as well as its political discourse. Unlike in many other parts of the country, the CPI remained a force with a substantial mass base in Kerala. So much so, the CPI’s Achuta Menon ended up as Chief Minister for many years after 1970 when the party had an alliance with the Congress. The coalition ministry lasted until 1977 (and this included during the emergency of 1975-77) and Kerala was among the States where the Congress, in alliance with the CPI won a majority of the Lok Sabha seats and also retained power in the State in 1977. That, however, was a split caused by ideological differences centred around the party’s approach to Jawaharlal Nehru’s Congress and Indira Gandhi’s legislative interventions in such areas as agrarian reforms and property relations. 
It may be noted here that Achutanandan, then, was with such others as A.K.Gopalan, E.K.Nayanar and E.M.S.Namboodiripad (among the 32 central committee members of the undivided CPI who walked out to form the CPM) and lead the party against Indira Gandhi’s Congress. This political line helped the CPI(M) grow in strength while the CPI’s base shrunk progressively and the party was reduced to a junior partner in the Left Democratic Front during the 1980s. Achutananda, meanwhile, rose in the CPI(M) to become the party’s State unit secretary; he remained in that position for 12 years until 1992. Pinarayi Vijayan, with whom he lost the inner party war finally was his protégé in the party. Of significance here is the fact that Achutanandan presided over the party’s State unit when K.R.Gowri (who was a member of E.M.S.Namboodiripad’s ministry in 1957 and a legendary leader of the communist movement) was marginalized in the party.[2] The CPI(M)’s election victory in 1987 was possible, to a large measure, to Gowriamma being projected as Chief Minister; but the party chose Nayanar after the election.
Even before that, M.V.Raghavan, an important leader of the party in the Malabar region and one who was emerging as a popular leader of the party across Kerala and among the youth in the party was hounded out of the party for having campaigned, within the party fora, for an alliance with the Indian Union Muslim League. Raghavan had put across this line within the party and there were many in the party who supported it. That was in December 1985 but the majority in the Stae leadership rejected this line. Even as he persisted within the party, Raghavan was punished; Achutanandan, as secretary of the State unit, prompted Pinarayi Vijayan (then secretary of the Kannur District Committee)  to act against Raghavan. It may be added that the party establishment went the whole hog against Raghavan because he had challenged the then general secretary, E.M.S.Namboodiripad on this issue.[3] Even if the entire issue was glossed with political-ideological arguments, there was, indeed, a power struggle within the party that was behind Raghavan’s expulsion. Raghavan, like Gowriamma, founded his own outfit, joined the Congress-led UDF and became cabinet minister twice.
An important feature of the CPI(M)’s growth in this period – beginning the 1980s – was that it happened at a time when the idea of communism and all the idealism that marked the party’s early years was now replaced with pragmatism. The end was no longer a revolutionary transformation of the society; it was to wrest power and control over the state machinery and in this sense like any other political party. The fragmented nature of the polity – on caste and religious lines – and the nexus between political parties on the one hand and caste and religious groups on the other led to political alliances of convenience. This began in the 1980s and the CPI(M) simply walked along this path and making hay in the process. It was no wonder then that factions emerged and feuds began.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the ushering in of the Liberalization regime and the way in which the party’s national leadership (under Harkishen Singh Surjeet’s leadership) was now cobbling up alliances and playing power-broker deepened the rot in the Kerala unit. It was during the five years between 1996 and 2001, when the LDF was in power that the CPI(M) got coopted into the system completely.[4]  Achutanandan was no longer his old self in the party’s state unit; however, he was very much active in scheming against individual leaders in the party; among those whom he targeted were T.M.Thomas Issac, Appukuttan Vallikunnu and some others. These were people who had sought to reinvent the party and attempting to foreground such issues as decentralization and internalizing ecological concerns into the development discourse. He had yet to take on Pinarayi Vijayan at that time. Beginning the late 1990s and until 2009, there was a purge and many promising leaders were either silenced or thrown out.
The Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP), of which T.P.Chandrasekaran was a leader, was the outcome of this. Achutanandan, meanwhile, rose to become the Chief Minister of Kerala in 2006 and this was the time he took on Vijayan. He was pleased with the RMP and all those who were critical of Pinarayi Vijayan; but the veteran leader had simply looked the other way when the party went about expelling such of those who raised questions against Vijayan’s decisions; Achutanandan did not demur when Pinarayi Vijayan was consolidating his hold over the party at all levels. It is also important to stress here that the central leadership of the party too had stood by Vijayan. Achutanandan’s splendid isolation within, evident when there was none left among the delegates too speak for him at the Allapuzha conference, was indeed a culmination of this.
Achutananda, indeed, is the only popular face that the party can put up in Kerala. This he knew as much as did others in the party. He played this out in 2006 after being denied a constituency by the party. The CPI(M) had to give in after the cadre as well as the fellow travelers of the Left showed their anger against the decision. He won the election and led the party to victory.  This may have changed today. He may not have been able to provoke a similar display of anger at Allapuzha even after walking out of the conference venue. His old comrades, now out of the party and still holding on to ideals did look up to him; they all found hopes from the developments in Delhi – the emergence of the AAP – and they did dream, for at least a couple of days that VS could emerge as leader of a coalition against corruption.
Well. Achutanandan seemed to know the ground reality better. He probably knew that Kerala is not Delhi. Achutanandan seemed to have read the reality better; that the CPI(M)’s organization – its cadre – now consists of people to whom ideals do not matter. They simply belong to another political party and will be there only because being there in the party and participating in its programmes will take them closer to the levers of power as and when the party wrests power. It could happen in 2016; it could happen in the panchayat elections even earlier given the shape of the UDF, now in power. As for the central leaders, they did not mind condoning `indiscipline’ and let Achutanandan remain on the margins of the party. Recall the party had expelled Nripen Chakraborty for simply commenting that the party has turned social democratic and ceased to be communist. It had acted against Somnath Chatterjee for a lesser crime. Raghavan and Gowriamma were shown the door for indiscipline. Achutanandan stays on. Nripen Chakraborty was right in a way. Just that he said that a bit too ahead of the times!

[1] Although there were elections and elected governments in Travancore-Cochin in 1951-52, the formation of Kerala as a State, constituted by the erstwhile Malabar district of the Madras Presidency along with the Travancore and the Cochin States in 1956 and the subsequent elections in 1957 may be considered a watershed when the CPI won a majority and E.M.S.Namboodiripad became its Chief Minister. The ministry was dismissed in 1959 after the Congress led an agitation, marked with violent protests against legislations in the education and the agrarian sectors.  
[2] K.R.Gowri was expelled from the party in 1994 on charges of indiscipline. It may be noted that she was hounded and pushed around within the party, on several occasions; the party would remove her from one committee after another and the process that began when Achutanandan was secretary of the State unit in 1988 culminated in her expulsion in 1994; although Achutanandan was not the secretary then, the fact is that he too was part of the process that threw the veteran leader out of the CPI(M). She founded her own platform and joined the Congress-led UDF to become minister twice after that.
[3] Raghavan’s expulsion happened soon after the CPI(M)’s congress at Vijayawada in 1986. The point is that Namboodiripad, then general secretary of the party too had campaigned to reject the argument that the IUML should be an ally of the party in Kerala.
[4] Interestingly, this was when Pinarayi Vijayan was at the helm in the Ministry for Electricity and the deal with SNC Lavalin was executed.