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Kerala: For CPM, winning the election is only half the battle

Anand Kochukudy | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The dilemma

  • LDF seems poised to win in Kerala. But who will be CM?
  • Pinarayi Vijayan might be the MLAs choice. But VS Achuthanandan is more popular by far
  • VS has come back from the brink many times in the past. Can he do it again?

More in the story

  • VS Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan\'s rivalry
  • VS: the comrade who never gives up

On the eve of the 2006 Assembly elections, Kerala witnessed a huge uprising against the Communist party from their own cadres and the general public. The popular leader of the opposition of the outgoing assembly, and one of the last founder members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Comrade VS Achuthanandan, was denied a ticket by the state committee of the party headed by Pinarayi Vijayan.

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There were mass protests and demonstrations throughout the state against the party in the full glare of 24/7 television that carried every bit of it. In the end, the Politburo of the party met to take stock and overruled the state and the Central Secretariat of the party and announced VS Achuthanandan's candidature from Malampuzha. The UDF and the Congress that banked on the factionalism within the CPM to come back to power were in for a rude shock. The LDF won by a historic margin and secured 98 out of the 140 seats.

History repeated itself in 2011, when the State Committee of the party yet again denied a ticket to Comrade VS, then the chief minister, and Kerala once again witnessed mass protests though not in the same scale as in 2006. The Politburo met and overturned the State and the Central Committee and retracted its own position to pave the way for VS Achuthanandan to contest again. Though the UDF was expected to win by a huge margin, in the end, the LDF had lost by a mere 2 seats. It was the first time since 1982 that any of the fronts had managed to almost buck the trend of alternative fronts ruling the state of Kerala. The good performance of the LDF in 2011 was largely attributed to VS Achuthanandan.

VS vs the party

We are in 2016 and this time around, the CPM is headed by Sitaram Yechury at the Centre and not Prakash Karat as in the previous two elections. Unlike Karat - who is considered to be close to Pinarayi Vijayan- Sitaram Yechury, has always stood up for Achuthanandan in the Politburo. Yechury avoided a repeat of the incidents of 2006 and 2011 by managing to convince the state leadership to offer a ticket to the 92 year old VS.

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Also, Pinarayi Vijayan will be contesting for the first time since 1996. Pinarayi, who was elected as the State Secretary of the party in 1998 with none other than VS Achuthanandan's backing, had remained in the position for 17 years (even after they fell out) till the Alappuzha state party Congress in February 2015.

But many political watchers are seeing it as the lull before the storm. The CPM has to tap into VS' popularity among the masses to come to power especially in Central and South Kerala where Pinarayi Vijayan doesn't enjoy a lot of support. Though VS' popularity is nowhere close to where it was in 2006 or even in 2011, he is clearly the most popular leader of any party in the state even today. This is reflected in the large masses that gather in his campaign rallies and the meetings he addresses.

Since 2001, VS has been on a collision course with the party's "official" faction led by Vijayan

Since 2001, and especially since the CPM state conference in 2005, VS Achuthanandan, the old-school Marxist, has been on a collision course with the party and its "official" faction led by Pinarayi Vijayan on many issues including core ideology. It aggravated through the course of VS' term as Chief Minister especially in the wake of the demolition drive in Munnar in 2007 and later in Pinarayi Vijayan's troubles with the law as an accused in the SNC-Lavlin scam in 2009. It reached its zenith in 2012 when ousted rebel and former VS faction leader, TP Chandrasekharan was hacked to a brutal death at Onchiyam supposedly with the blessings of the top CPM leadership of the Kannur and Kozhikode districts.

VS famously likened Pinarayi to Comrade Dange then. VS still escaped disciplinary action with a mere censure. It seemed that the central leadership that had considerably weakened by then had no choice but to give a longer rope to Comrade VS. It culminated in VS walking out in protest midway through the reading of the annual report at the CPM State Conference in Alappuzha in February 2015. 51 years after he walked out of the CPI along with 31 other comrades and formed the CPI (M), the symbolism was hard to miss as there were speculations that VS was finally on his way out of the party.

Change in equations

But the election of Sitaram Yechury as the General Secretary of the CPM after a couple of months in April changed all that and saw the veteran coming out of that phase and in the Aruvikkara by-elections that followed in another couple of months, VS once again was the star campaigner. Though his image as an idealist has taken a beating in recent months owing to his tactical silence and double standards on certain issues, VS seems to be doing everything right to once again stake his claim to the chair of Chief Minister, in the event of the LDF coming to power.

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But Pinarayi Vijayan could be the overwhelming choice of the MLAs in that event as the Pinarayi faction or the "Official" faction has annihilated the VS faction in the state committees with none of VS Achuthanandan's prominent backers including the CITU state President, PK Gurudasan and CS Sujatha managing to even secure a ticket to contest. If so, how the nonagenarian VS, who is in the pink of health for his age, will be accommodated remains to be seen. It's very unlikely that Comrade VS will fade into the oblivion the way BJP veteran Lal Krishna Advani did post 2014. The factionalism that came to grip the party since 1992 might once again threaten to derail it in its tracks.

Postscript: It is also interesting to note that KR Gowri, 96, Kerala's only surviving Minister in the 1st E.M.S Namboothirippad ministry of 1957, thrown out of the party in 1994 on the charges of "anti-party activities", has pledged her splinter party's support to the CPM after being with the UDF since her expulsion. The other prominent expelled leader, the late MV Raghavan's son, Nikesh Kumar, is also a candidate for the CPM in the Azhikode constituency.

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 10 May 2016, 6:18 IST