Wedded In Delhi Divorced In Kerala

Anti-Americanism keeps them together at the Centre, but in Kerala the CPM and CPI are at each other’s jugular. Will the Congress have the last laugh?


WHILE LEFT parties in New Delhi join hands for their biggest anti-America battle yet, a very different scenario is playing out in traditional Red stronghold Kerala, where the CPM and the CPI have been sparring with each other for over a year now. Sour relations between the two took a new turn for the worse in early July, with the late-night arrest of PS Supal, state head of the CPI’s youth wing, the All India Youth Federation (AIYF). The arrest of a Left leader under a government headed by a Left party rocked the Kerala Assembly, and the CPM found itself isolated even among its partners in the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF).

According to political observers, the incident has foregrounded the strain in CPM-CPI relations, which began last year when a part of the CPI office in the famous Munnar hill station was demolished during an anti-encroachment drive. The CPI had been using just the ground floor of their multi-storeyed office for party purposes, while running a holiday resort out of the other floors. Demolition drive officials managed to partially demolish the building after a go ahead from Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. But the drive was aborted after an angry CPI openly took on Achuthanandan, while Revenue Minister and CPI MLA KP Rajendran got the concerned officials transferred using his ministerial powers. Thereafter, the CPI has never missed a chance to ridicule Achuthanandan and other CPM leaders on every platform they get.

“The CPI is playing spoilsport in Kerala, that too in an election year,” warns a CPM Central Committee member from North Kerala, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They handle the crucial agriculture, civil supplies, revenue and forest departments in the coalition ministry but have failed expectations miserably. If they further harm Left unity, they will be wiped out from Kerala politics.”

Until the Munnar incident, the CPI was not only in perfect harmony with Achuthanandan but also supported him against his party rivals led by controversial CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. Along with the Achuthanandan camp, the CPI initially raised strong opposition to a multi-crore Asian Development Bank loan, which allegedly came with antipeople strings attached. But the party later made an abrupt U-turn without informing the chief minister, and facilitated the borrowing of the loan as planed by Finance Minister TM Thomas Issac, a Pinarayi lieutenant.

While the CPI and the CPM now slug it out, the former became the subject of open ridicule last month when it raised serious objections against the composition and funding of an integrated food security project. The brainchild of noted economist and Kerala Planning Board vice-chairman Prabhat Patnaik, the multicrore project was aimed at tackling Kerala’s food crisis by increasing rice production. The CPI saw the attempt as an interference in the affairs of its agriculture department; the CPM, however, finally went ahead with the project regardless. Then there was the controversy over the hundred-year-old Thiruvananthapuram golf club, which the CPI attempted to take over from an administrative body comprising IAS officials and top businessmen. While the club was shut down through the CPIheld revenue department, it was almost immediately reopened after the CPM put its weight behind it. The matter is currently before the Kerala High Court.

THE DIVIDE between the Left majors is most visible in CPI bastion Kollam. In order to rout the CPI candidate in the district co-operative bank elections, the CPM joined hands with the Revolutionary Socialist Party, another LDF partner. Unable to tolerate the defeat, the CPI last week abandoned its role as convener of the district Left coordination committee. “We all have collective responsibility for maintaining Left unity. The CPM has taken control of the cooperative bank in a most undemocratic way, and the cooperative department has gone out of its way to help them,” alleges CPI Kollam district secretary K. Prakashbabu.

In Idukki district in central Kerala, the dispute between the two parties over the sale of two tea estates has spilled out into the streets. A CPI public meeting, organised to protest the sale of the estates to big plantation groups, was attacked by a CPM mob at Vandiperiyar, near Munnar. Vazhur Soman, CPI state committee member and state vice-president of the All India Trade Union Congress, was among those injured in the attack.

The last Lok Sabha election saw the highest number of Left candidates winning from Kerala. The Left bagged 18 of 20 seats and the Congress got nothing. “The situation will be different this time,” says prominent Left-leaning writer and political observer Sara Joseph. “Kerala may be the only South Indian state where the Congress will have some advantage, and that is because of the street fighting within the CPM and among the Left partners. That will definitely influence the mandate and the Left will be lucky if it manages even six seats.”

Although Pinarayi Vijayan managed to regain control of the CPM, and is keeping Achuthanandan a prisoner of party discipline, the party is facing challenges from its own disgruntled cadres. A mammoth convention was held in Shoranur in Palakkad district where expelled leaders vowed to fight the ideological deviations and class compromises of the CPM leadership. Kerala has seen expelled CPM leaders organise gatherings of this scale only very rarely, but similar meetings are planned for other parts of the state and they are certain to damage the LDF’s prospects even further.

”The leadership has been adopting a neoliberal path for quite a while, and their class compromises are visible in their party and governmental decisions. This has worried the cadres, and a realignment process has already began in various parts,” says N. Sugathan, president of the Adhinivesa Prathirodha Samithy, a forum of activists who left the CPM over ideological differences.

Meanwhile, it is almost certain that most of the CPM’s sitting MPs will be denied tickets during the next elections, as they have not found a place in the good books of the mighty Pinarayi faction. K. Suresh Kurup of Kottayam and NN Krishnadas of Palakkad were known for their excellent performance in Parliament, but their proximity to Achuthanandan caused their demotion to the bottom of the party hierarchy. Kannur MP AP Abdulla Kutty, Manjery MP TK Hamza, Mavelikkara MP CS Sujatha and Ottapalam MP S. Ajayakumar are also out of favour for the same reason. Abdulla Kutty, an young leader who enjoys the support of the Muslim community, was subjected to disciplinary action last week for condemning bandhs and hartals. MP Veerendrakumar, Kozhikode MP and president of the Kerala faction of the Janata Dal, will also be denied a seat as Pinarayi openly blamed him and the newspaper Mathrubhumi, in which he’s a shareholder, for weakening Left unity by “propagating anti-Left canards”.

The CPI in Kerala has three seats in the present Lok Sabha, but even party insiders concede it will be tough for it to maintain any of them. In the meantime, Pinarayi has started efforts to bring the Kerala unit of the Nationalist Congress Party back into the LDF fold, ignoring opposition from Achuthanandan and all existing coalition partners. The NCP’s state president K. Muraleedharan, who refused to go back to the Congress along with his father, the Machiavellian K. Karunakaran, is in need of rehabilitation in any of the leading fronts. Last time, his participation was blocked by the CPM politburo following complaints from Achuthanandan. Pinarayi has reportedly promised the Kozhikode seat to Muraleedharan, based on the calculation that there would be not much opposition from the allies this time. •

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