Thiruvananthapuram: V.S. Achuthanandan, India’s oldest living communist leader, who was likened to Cuban leader Fidel Castro by Communist Party of India (Marxist) boss Sitaram Yechury recently, turned 93 on Thursday.
VS, as he is known, is also the last of the old-school comrades in the party, analysts said, in contrast with younger Left leaders like Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, 72, who is seen more as a social democrat than a communist.
“He is the last so-called Indian communist," said Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice chancellor of the Bengaluru-based Jain University.
A communist leader typically is known for commitment to certain values in public life and living a blemish-less private life—much like the image VS has, said Shastri.
He may belong to the old school, but VS still remains an important leader of the communist movement and Kerala. His popularity is unquestionable. Despite his age, surveys during the 16 May assembly election in Kerala suggested he was the most popular candidate to become chief minister. His campaign, braving the then sweltering heat in Kerala and using social media websites like Facebook, was a key factor in the victory of the Left front government, analysts said. After the elections, some have dubbed the nonagenarian the real leader of opposition in the assembly for his powerful punches on issues like corruption.
The people standing outside his modest office in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday, the day Mint met him, attested to the stature of VS. It was a group of people, who were given land titles when VS was the chief minister between 2006 and 2011, but were allegedly cheated by the movement’s leaders. They said they trusted VS would help them resolve the matter.
This sets apart the clean-shaved revolutionary from his grey-bearded Cuban counterpart. While the latter is rarely seen in the public, VS is accessible.
Another distinction between the two mass leaders is their state of health. While Castro’s health is reportedly failing, VS is still seen as an energetic leader. On Tuesday, a routine day for him, he woke up at 5.30am, went for a half-an-hour walk, read at least four newspapers, did some yoga, had breakfast and two tablets to check pressure—the only medicines he takes—and had attended the morning session of the state assembly by 11am, as per his personal assistant.
However, by the time he turned to us, he seemed tired and was unable to answer the first set of questions in his drowsy state of mind.
While the assistants prompted him for most of the answers, he was vibrant at times.
For instance, the minute Punnapra-Vayalar—the iconic revolutionary uprising by commoners under the communist leadership against diwan CP Ramaswamy Iyer’s army in Punnapra and Vayalar regions in 1946—came up in the conversation, his eyes twinkled behind the thick glasses. He narrated some history in broken, disconnected and unfinished sentences.
Asked how he would describe four major political leaders relevant to his political constituency, he said:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi? “A tool of RSS."
BJP Kerala president Kummanam Rajashekaran? “A tool of Modi."
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury? “The best communist out there."
CPM leader and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan; you are known for having frosty ties with him? “He is a good communist. Okay, so this interview is over," he said, wrapping up the meeting.