Kochi: The leadership of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) may be under the impression that it has solved the problem by suspending two senior members—Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan and state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan—from the Politburo, the party’s highest decision-making body, for fighting with each other openly.
The problem is that hardly anyone in the state administration is convinced that factionalism will somehow end. A top bureaucrat, who didn’t want his name used, said the party’s acknowledgement of factionalism in public and action against the chief minister will only divide the bureaucracy, making it even more difficult for the government.
The action against the two top leaders is a last-ditch attempt to protect the Kerala unit of the party, a strong bastion for the CPM.
Until now, the state administration had received only praise from the Politburo for steps taken by the chief minister, such as the eviction of encroachers in Munnar; the agreement with the Dubai Internet City promoters for setting up an IT park, Smart City, in Kochi where the state expects global IT players to set up shop; arresting price rise through strengthening the public distribution system.
The list also includes building rail wagons at the state-owned Autokast unit and setting up defence component manufacturing at Keltron. All these have made Achuthanandan, or V.S., popular among the masses.
But it has been a tug-of-war in the state party unit with V.S. and Pinarayi both trying to gain supremacy. When elections were declared in the state in 2006, the Pinarayi faction succeeded in convincing the Politburo to keep both the leaders out of the fray.
As the leader of the opposition, V.S. had, until 2006, led several campaigns including one against encroachment of forest and revenue land, which caught public attention and also made him very popular. The party leadership then had not openly lent support to his agitations and even felt that he was crossing party limits to make himself the face of the campaigns.
The party’s cadres took to the streets and campaigned for his candidature. So, the Politburo had no choice but to bow before popular demand and allow him to contest the elections. Factionalism did not prevent the Left Democratic Front, led by the CPM, for winning 98 of the 140 seats and the state CPM leadership was forced to make him the chief minister. At the same time, it ensured that he did not hold on to key portfolios to grow his influence and cross swords with the state party leadership.
The immediate provocation of the latest Politburo action was the public statement by V.S. hinting that Pinarayi was responsible for leaking party information to the media. Quick to respond, Pinarayi held a press conference and said it was improper on the part of a Politburo member to leave another member under the shadow of doubt. “It was unbecoming of a comrade,” he said and made a counter allegation on a media “syndicate” run by V.S. supporters.
The Politburo has tried to make the punishment appear even-handed and signalled the two leaders to bury the hatchet. The chief minister has said the punishment is whole-heartedly accepted and it is natural that in public life certain statements and actions will have to be corrected. “Parents and teachers punish children when they commit mistakes,” he said.
Pinarayi too has admitted that the action, though it hurts him, will help build the party and the administration will in no way be affected.
But he continues to stick to his stand that there is a media “syndicate,” backed by V.S. supporters and led by a personal staff member of V.S. who was removed from the party for leaking information.