Factionalism in the CPM has already hurt Chief Minister Achuthanandan. In a new bid, the rival camp takes the support of LDF constituent CPI to target the beleaguered CPM leader
“The Congress-led United Democratic Front is a big joke in Kerala politics. There is neither unity nor democracy in that front of opportunists and power mongers. They must learn lessons from us on running a coalition based on a common political philosophy and strong ideals.” — VS Achuthanandan, then Leader of the Opposition in Kerala Assembly
During a high-voltage election campaign last year, Achuthanandan projected himself as a crusader against corruption and the champion of the underdog. The LDF swept the 2006 Assembly elections primarily due to Achuthanandan coming through as a tough, no-nonsense leader who would deliver on his promises. But after more than a year, he is fast turning into the shadow of the man he was during the campaign. The 84-year-old Comrade VS is, according to CPM insiders, a leader under siege.
Pushed to a corner by the faction led by state CPMsecretary Pinarayi Vijayan, Achuthanandan is subject to criticism by coalition partners like the CPI and the Kerala Congress (Joseph). The CM is now distrusted by the CPM’S rank and file, and is constantly reminded by the media that he is failing to deliver on his promises.
Till recently, much of Achuthanandan’s troubles come from just one quarter — Vijayan and his camp. Now Vijayan has taken a backseat in attacking the CM while the CPI’S KE Ismail and Kerala Congress (J) leader PJ Joseph have upped the ante. According to Achuthanandan supporters, there is an unholy nexus between Joseph, Ismail and Vijayan to defame Achuthanandan. “If Achuthanandan reacts to any verbal attack by Ismail and Joseph, Vijayan would dub such remarks as attempts to weaken the coalition. The CPM leadership would be forced to initiate action against him for appeasing the coalition partners. Achuthanandan is aware of their strategy and so he is ignoring all such abuses,’’ says Berlin Kunjannathan Nair, an Achuthanandan loyalist, who was expelled from the party.
According to CPI leaders, party assistant secretary Ismail has a secret agenda to finish off the chief minister politically. Ismail, who is alleged to be close to the real estate mafia in the state, was in the forefront of thwarting the government action against illegal buildings and encroachments in Munnar. He had used foul language against Munnar Mission special officer Suresh Kumar and even indirectly attacked the CM. Ismail had also expressed his displeasure over the state’s acquisition of an ecologically sensitive estate from a powerful lease holder in Nelliampathy in Palakkad. Now, Ismail is blaming Achuthanandan for the government’s lapses in the ISRO-Merchinston Estate deal.
“Forest Minister Binoy Viswam had written to Achuthanandan last month when work on a helipad was on at the site which ISRO had purchased, but he did not do anything,” charged Ismail. According to the Kerala Congress, the rightist party in the LDF, it was Achuthanandan who complicated matters for its chairman PJ Joseph when he was implicated in a case of alleged misbehaviour with a woman passenger on a Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram flight. ACCORDING TO the party, Joseph had to resign from his PWD portfolio after Achuthanandan’s office allegedly circulated details of the incident to the media.
Joseph’s successor TU Kuruvila had to resign from the post as well in view of his reported involvement in an illegal land deal. “The chief minister was unfair to me. He was not even ready to hear my version,” says Kuruvila. In protest, Joseph has decided not to suggest anybody from his party to fill the post of PWD minister. The anti-Achuthanandan brigade in the LDF ousted Kerala Congress (Secular) from the front citing flimsy reasons. The party’s chairman PC George is a bête noire of Joseph and a confidant of Achuthanandan. The expulsion came about following his disclosures of misuse of power by Joseph and Kuruvila.
The fissures in the LDF came to the fore in its latest meeting when it discussed the demand for an inquiry into the ISRO land deal. Failing to reach a consensus, the LDF asked the government to take appropriate action. However, Achuthanandan is under severe pressure not to order any inquiry. In the meeting, Joseph demanded an inquiry to counter the Opposition agitation. But CPI state secretary Veliyam Bhargavan said that there was no need for an inquiry at any level. He hinted that the CPI would withdraw from the Cabinet in case an inquiry was ordered. The CPI fears any inquiry would force Forest Minister Viswam to resign and would expose Ismail’s dealings. The CPI’s public image has already hit an all-time low due to its opposition to the investigation into ISRO land deal and for torpedoing the Munnar evictions.
Though the RSP and the Janata Dal are supporting Achuthanandan, their leaders are under attack by the Vijayan group. In the meantime, inner-party elections are underway in the CPM and both factions are gunning for each other.