CPM IN CRISIS
K A Shaji/ Thiruvananthapuram
“The crux of the policy (police policy of the government of 1957 in Kerala) is that it is not the job of the police to suppress the trade unions, peasants and other mass activities of any mass organization, or a political struggle waged by any political party. The job of the police is to track down and punish those who commit ordinary crimes,”
(‘Twenty-eight Months in Kerala’, Selected Writings of EMS Namboodiripad, Vol. 2, p.134)
Fifty years ago, the Communist Party of India (CPI), led by EMS Namboodiripad, assumed the reins of government in Kerala.
It was a historic occasion — the first time ever anywhere in the world that a Communist party had been democratically voted into power. Appropriately enough, both the erstwhile CPI’s offshoots, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) and the CPI, are marking the golden jubilee of the event this year.
After he was sworn in as chief minister, Namboodiripad outlined his policy on the role of the police. It is ironic then that this year has also witnessed police atrocities against people agitating against the land acqusition policies in CPM-governed West Bengal. The turn of events at Singur and Nandigram has left many in Kerala dismayed — as has CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan’s vociferous defence of the police action in West Bengal. Vijayan now holds the infamous distinction of being the first Politburo member of the CPM (and the erstwhile CPI) ever who is facing a CBI probe on corruption charges.
Despite having a razor thin majority in the Assembly, the EMS government of 1957 legislated a series of epochal initiatives, especially in land reforms and education. At the time, the total strength of the ruling coalition, was just 65 in the 123-member Assembly. After the election of the Assembly Speaker, the government’s majority was first reduced to three, and then to two when a court order cancelled the Assembly membership of Rosamma Punnoose. The Congress-led opposition, with the support of the powerful Christian lobby and the upper-caste Nair community, led a “Liberation Struggle” against the EMS government. Most vernacular dailies openly supported the violent struggle. “The Opposition, which had allegedly accepted money from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to topple the EMS government, tried its best to win over at least an mla from the ruling front. But none of the legislators fell into the trap,” says Berlin Kunjhananthan Nair, a veteran journalist. Buckling under pressure, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dismissed the government.
The situation today could hardly be more different. The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) — a coalition of CPM, CPI and a clutch of other parties — enjoys a comfortable majority in the Assembly. But the policies being pursued by the government are more in line with the neo-liberal approach being followed by the West Bengal government. On several occasions, Achuthanandan has failed to assert his stand on crucial policy issues and the growing infighting in the party is increasingly reminiscent of the United Democratic Front (UDF) regime under K. Karunakaran in the early 1990’s.
“The reason (behind the infighting) is very simple,” says KR Gouri, who was the revenue minister in the EMS Cabinet. “The CM has no faith in most ministers who found entry into the Cabinet not on their merit but because of their loyalty to Pinarayi Vijayan. On their part, they have no faith either in the chief minister or in the party ideology,” she explained. Gouri was instrumental in piloting the landmark Land Reforms Bill during the EMS regime, but was later expelled from the CPM for “indiscipline”.
Achuthanandan is fast losing credibility as a “crusader against corruption”. The Vijayan faction enjoys a clear majority in the party’s state unit and has successfully compelled the CM to implement policies which go against his stated positions.
He had to agree to the hiring of top lawyers to oppose a pil in the Kerala High Court (HC), which sought a CBI inquiry into the controversial snc Lavalin contract case. Vijayan’s name figures prominently in the case. During the Assembly poll campaign, the LDF had promised that it will close all cola plants over concerns of the over-exploitation of groundwater. The industry and water resources departments are silent on charges that the cola multinational Pepsi is overdrawing ground water in Palakkad district. A week ago, the HC ruled in favour of Pepsico by striking down the Pudussery panchayat’s order that cancelled the soft drink giant’s licence. The industries ministry, headed by Vijayan nominee Elamaram Kareem, took a stand in the court which weakened the panchayat’s arguments and strengthened the company’s right to run the plant.
The controversial decision to accept a Rs 1,422-crore loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for urban development was another flip-flop that shed light into the fissures within the LDF. When the LDF was in Opposition, Achuthanandan led the combine’s campaigns to scuttle the efforts of former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to avail the loan. Now in power, Finance Minister Thomas Issac and Local Administration Minister Paloli Mohammed Kutty (both belong to the Vijayan camp) kept the CM completely in the dark when they expressed the state’s willingness to accept the loan.
“What is the difference between the LDF and us,” asks senior Congress leader and former CM, Oommen Chandy. “They are now implementing whatever they had opposed earlier. The CPM lacks political integrity and honesty,” Chandy said.
Farmers’ suicides in Kerala were the main poll plank for the LDF during the last Assembly poll. Much to the chagrin, his attempts to write off loans to stem the suicides didn’t bear fruit due to strong opposition from the state finance ministry. As of now, more than 100 farmers have committed suicide after he came to power.
The plight of the victims of sensational sex scandals was another hot issue raised by Achuthanandan. Unfortunately, the CM finds no way to help them since the Vijayan faction took away home portfolio. The CM neither has any agency under him to reinvestigate the cases nor has any control over the home minister who is a staunch Vijayan loyalist. Now, the industries ministry has no qualms in allowing private players in the mineral sand mining in the coastal Alappuzha region. The LDF had vehemently opposed the project a few years ago citing environmental reasons.
Now Achuthanandan is buying more time. “Ten months is not a period to judge a government, elected for five years. I would keep my promises. Give me a little more time,” Achuthanandan told Tehelka. When asked about his surrender in the ADB loan issue, he said only time would prove whose stand was correct on that issue.