As party elections approach, the powerful Kerala CPM boss senses the ground slipping underneath, reports KA Shaji

Finally, the dictatorship of the politburo is clear and present in the CPM’s Kerala unit. The party’s central committee, in its three-day meeting that concluded in New Delhi on June 26, ratified the month-old suspension from the politburo of Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, a decision that party sources say has come as much more of a shock for the secretary than for the cm.

If the central committee does not convene again before September to revoke the suspension, the party in Kerala would conduct its multi-level organisational elections, as a prelude to the party congress, for the first time under a secretary who has been removed from the politburo, the highest decision-making body in the party, for indiscipline. Such a situation would erode Pinarayi’s already shaken base among the party cadre and would upset his chances of getting reelected to the powerful post.

On the other side, Achuthanandan has no such problem as the suspension in no way affects his chief minister’s post. Neither the politburo nor the central committee has said anything negative on his style of administration so far. Instead, both have complimented him on his success in making the multi-crore Smart City project a reality and the demolition of illegal constructions in Munnar.

It was only a few days back that the Central Bureau of Investigation raided the Kerala State Electricity Board headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram as part of its investigation into the sensational snc Lavalin corruption case. As per information available from the CBI team probing the case, Pinarayi would be interrogated very soon. This is for the first time that a top CPM leader is under the CBI’s scanner. Even an interrogation would make it tough for him to continue as state party secretary.

Barely two days before the central committee meeting, another corruption case had started haunting the Pinarayi group. The CPM was forced to expel from the party K. Venugopal, a close associate of Pinarayi and deputy general manager of the party mouthpiece Desabhimani, for accepting a bribe of Rs one crore from a private financial company for withdrawing corruption cases against its chairman. This was confirmed by a party communiqué issued by the CPM state secretariat in which the Pinarayi faction has a brute majority. Until now, Venugopal had been the right-hand man of Pinarayi.

The private financial company’s chairman, VK Chacko, informed top leaders of the party including Achuthanandan about the transaction after Venugopal failed to help him. The efforts by Chacko to settle the issue through intermediaries did not succeed. The official communique said that the expulsion of Venugopal for committing “financial transactions defaming the party” had been approved by the state secretariat.

But the big question doing the rounds is who were the party leaders who accepted the money collected by Venugopal. Venugopal was able to return only Rs 15 lakh to Chacko. Politburo chief Prakash Karat has said that the party has a mechanism to trace the money and it will take stringent action against those involved in the deal.

Another major irritation for Pinarayi is the politburo’s dilution of the disciplinary action taken by his own state secretariat against 14 senior Achuthanandan supporters in Thiruvananthapuram. The Pinarayi faction had constituted an inquiry commission of its own against those who had openly protested against denial of an Assembly seat to Achuthanandan, and had found 14 leaders in Thiruvananthapuram guilty. The commission recommended their expulsion from the party and the secretariat was ready to do so. But following the intervention of the central leadership, nobody was expelled. Only minor actions were taken.

The central leadership also entrusted a three-member committee led by Kerala Labour Minister PK Gurudasan, a known supporter of Achuthanandan, to look into all other disciplinary actions taken in the state. The committee comprises of a neutral leader and a Pinarayi faction representative. This intervention of the politburo has rekindled the spirits of a number of Achuthanandan supporters who were subjected to extreme actions like expulsion.

The indifference of a large number of second rung leaders is also irking Pinarayi. “The dissidence had gripped the Kerala unit like a cancer. Hence the remedy should also be along the lines of oncological treatment. Removal of the proponents of factionalism is the only solution and we are mentally preparing for it,” said a top second rung leader.

The second rung leaders are not ready to risk their careers. Education Minister MA Baby was the only leader who reacted to the media over the suspension of the senior leaders one month back. Baby’s guarded words were aimed at pleasing the politburo, Pinarayi and VS alike.

Desabhimani chief editor VV Dakshinamurthy told a television channel recently that the action came at a time when the inner party struggle in the party had almost seized to exist. The message he tried to convey was clear — the party cadre and other leaders were not interested in the personal feud between VS and Pinarayi.

The distance kept by known Pinarayi loyalists from recent issues taken up by the state secretary is an indicator of what is in store for Pinarayi. Making noises about a “media syndicate”, attacking Achuthanandan’s former secretary Shajahan, questioning the integrity of Munnar team special officer Suresh Kumar, and the disciplinary action against VS loyalists all turned out to be issues in Pinarayi’s agenda only.

Neither Baby nor Kodiyeri abused the so-called media syndicate. LDF convener Vaikom Viswan opposed any change in the Munnar special team at the party-government coordination committee meeting, only one minister supported Pinarayi’s argument against the Munnar team in the cabinet fraction meeting, and in the Thrissur district committee the disciplinary action against T. Sasidharan and other VS supporters was opposed by district secretary Baby John and former district secretary Mamakkutty, who are staunch Pinarayi supporters.

In the run up to the branch and local committee elections, the Pinarayi group will have to take a stand on all such issues and it is unlikely that the perceptions of Pinarayi will turn out to be the official views of the group.

Most of the leaders believe that the politburo, which has already tightened its grip, would depute its member S. Ramachandran Pillai to lead the party in Kerala. If SRP is deputed to Kerala to head the party in the near future, that would be the beginning of a new power centre in the Kerala CPM.

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