New Delhi: The tensions in the Kerala unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, may be testing breaking point after the chief minister attacked the party’s leadership at a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Chief minister of Kerala and politburo member V.S. Achuthanandan criticized the party for defending the CPM state secretary and political rival Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of corruption in a contract awarded to a foreign power equipment manufacturer by the state government in 1997.
While there was no official statement from the party, a senior CPM leader denied knowledge about Achuthanandan’s statements, even as there were fears that the party’s state unit could split. If it does happen, it would dent CPM’s prospects in the national polls due by May, especially since the party won 18 of the 20 seats in Kerala in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The CPM has 43 members in the lower house.
Miffed: Kerala CM and politburo member V.S. Achuthanandan. Raveendran / AFP
“Criticizing the CBI for its investigative report (on the SNC Lavalin case in which Vijayan has been named as an accused in CBI’s report submitted to the Kerala high court last week) amounts to questioning and challenging the court because the high court division bench had directed CBI to probe the case and the investigation was monitored by the court itself,” said Achuthanandan, 86, who was in New Delhi for the state’s plan discussions with the Planning Commission.
Jyoti Basu, former chief minister of West Bengal, and Achuthanandan are two surviving members of the 32 national council members who had left the Communist Party of India to form the CPM in 1964.
The CPM politburo, the apex body of the party, had earlier termed CBI’s move to prosecute Vijayan, who is leading a Kerala march ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, as “politically motivated” and that the Congres-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had been using the Central investigating agencies for “political purposes”.
The CPM, along with other Left parties, withdrew support to the UPA in July after India decided to ink the civil nuclear deal with the US.
“Those who criticize the CBI move may have their reasons for it. But I am a representative of the people who has taken an oath under the Constitution... I have explained my stand to the party politburo,” Achuthanandan said.
After a meeting with party general secretary Prakash Karat late in the evening, the chief minister told journalists that he would be attending a politburo meeting scheduled for 14 February. Politiburo member S. Ramachandra Pillai maintained that he was not aware of the chief minister’s latest statement.
The Kerala high court has issued notices to Vijayan, among others, after the CBI submitted a report to the court, naming the party secretary as an accused for receiving kickbacks for allotting a contract to SNC Lavalin.
The comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) had found irregularities in the contract for renovation and modernization of the Pallivassal, Chengulam and Panniyar hydroelectric projects in Idukki district that led to a loss of Rs347 crore to the state exchequer.
Vijayan, then the state power minister, had awarded the Rs283 crore contract to SNC Lavalin. As part of the deal struck with the government, the company promised to contribute Rs98.3 crore to the Malabar Cancer Centre (MCC) located in Vijayan’s hometown in Kannur district. CAG found that neither did the renovation of the power station restore its original generation capability, nor did the promised funds for MCC accrue.
Mint could not immediately reach Vijayan.