CPM Organisational poll
The party’s organisational poll is all about who gets to control its business conglomerate. KA SHAJI reports
EVEN HIS death was a political statement. Kerala’s leading Left theoretician MN Vijayan, who earned the wrath of the state CPM leaders by exposing their ideological degeneration, died on October 3 addressing a press meet in which he reminded cadres that the country was greater than any individual. He suffered a stroke as he was uttering the words, “we will not allow the state to be misled or hijacked”.
His last words assume great significance given the current political scenario in the state where groups led by CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan are pitted against each other in the organisational elections to gain control of the party’s Rs 4,000-crore empire. The inner-party polls have already begun and have created the mood of an Assembly election in Kerala. Will Pinarayi retain control or will Achuthanandan make a comeback has become a topic of great debate in the state.
In his condolence message, Pinarayi, a former student of the professor-turned theoretician, termed him an able teacher but said nothing about his contribution as a fellow partyman. That was not the case about three years ago. MN Vijayan was the party’s conscience and justified the party stand even amidst difficult circumstances.
The first major instance was when party cadres burned a snake park at Pappinissery in Kannur to settle political scores. The issue gained national attention and though the CPM stood isolated, Vijayan was the only academic who supported the party. Vijayan took the same stand when CPM men hacked a BJP leader to death in front of the primary school students he taught.
But Vijayan’s tirade against some leaders who deviated from the fundamentals of Communism and accepted foreign funds with strings attached made him persona non grata for Pinarayi and his cronies. Vijayan’s call for revolt against Pinarayi during the last organisational election had many takers but that failed to become a reality as money and muscle won over ideology. While the party is facing yet another major organisational poll, many feel Vijayan’s last words will have an impact. Meanwhile, the rival groups care little for ideology and prefer “practical” ways to win the election. In Palakkad, alcohol was used to prevent a local leader from attending an election process. When he was in a drunken stupor, his rivals hijacked the proceedings. Attempts to use industrial groups to influence prominent local-level leaders with money are also going on unabated in Alappuzha and Thrissur districts.
The winners have much to gain. After all, the CPM here is run like a corporation with its state secretary as the virtual CEO. No other party in Kerala owns as much land and property as the CPM. It has also diversified into hospital ventures, owns three satellite TV channels and runs the Desabhimani, one of the state’s largest-circulated dailies. Flush with the success of its ventures, “reformists” in the party now plan to set up Information Technology (IT) parks and mega hypermarkets, the latter modelled on supermarkets in the West. Whoever said the comrades were insulated from market forces apparently got it wrong; in Kerala, at least, CPM Incorporated is marching ahead.
But what has left die-hard supporters speechless is the CPM’s foray into the amusement park business. People like MN Vijayan had criticised it but in vain. Initially, the party set up a cooperative society, the Malabar Tourism Development Cooperative Society, to execute the project. The plan was to mobilise funds from cooperative banks and financial institutions for the project. However, it ran into rough weather with the then Congress- led government dissolving the governing bodies of co-op banks and bringing them under its control. But work on the project is on at breakneck speed. A new outfit, the Malabar Pleasures Private Limited, has been registered and is promoted by a group led by the Kannur district party secretariat members.
Funds for the channels didn’t come only from pro-CPM outfits. When the party asked, even liquor barons were only too happy to get out their cheque books. MP Purushothaman, a Chennai-based liquor baron, bought Rs 25 lakh worth of shares. Further, non-resident Keralites are well-known as a source of the party’s funds. Drunk on the success of its burgeoning empire, the Pinarayi Vijayan faction is planning more ventures. The pointsman: E. Narayanan, the brain behind the party’s rubber co-op, Rubco. His latest venture is the newly floated Tellicherry Medical Foundation (TMFL).
Rubco was one of Narayanan’s first successes. Established in 1997, it now has annual sales of over Rs 450 crore and a staff of over 1,000. Located in the Marxist bastion of north Kannur, it manufactures a range of coir and rubber products. However, the UDF says Rubco availed of loans worth crores from CPM-controlled cooperative banks, violating norms, and made no repayments. So there is no real profit for the company, the UDF alleges. The CPM’s mascot in Malabar is, of course, the 250-bed Tellicherry Cooperative Hospital. It has also set up an EMS Memorial Hospital at Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district. Three years ago, a 100-bed hospital, in the name of ex-party secretary AP Varkey, was opened in Ernakulam.
While some oppose the party’s involving itself in the service industry, sympathisers argue that the CPM had to change with the times. The new logic is that only then can it play a role in modern society. Therefore, they feel, there is no harm in the cadre exploiting unfolding opportunities in trade and commerce. But not everyone agrees. Asks Berlin Kunhananthan Nair, one of the old guard: “Do you think the emancipation of the working class will come through amusement parks and super-specialty hospitals?” This organisational poll will hopefully provide an answer to this.