Comrades at each other's neck - Vicious infighting over lucrative businesses bleeds Kerala CPM

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By JOHN MARY in Thiruvananthapuram
  • Published 21.08.05
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Thiruvananthapuram, Aug. 21: In Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Bengal, the CPM has just put behind it an ideological war over providing agricultural land for industries to come up.

In hardline ideologue Prakash Karat’s Kerala ? also bound for Assembly polls in 2006 ? a far more vicious infighting is bleeding the party. And ideology seems to have little to do with it.

The stakes in the battle are the Kerala CPM’s lucrative businesses that have swelled the party’s kitty to Rs 4,000 crore. Whoever holds sway in the party gets to control its array of rather unproletarian assets, which include a flourishing TV channel and furniture business as well as a soon-to-come-up amusement park and shopping mall.

The man currently holding the reins is Pinarayi Vijayan, state CPM secretary, who hopes to be chief minister if the party wins the 2006 polls.

The challenger is leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, V.S. Achuthanandan, 79, who commands cadre loyalty at the grassroots.

Achuthanandan was among those who had walked out of a conference of the undivided CPI in Punjab 41 years ago, triggering the crisis that led to the birth of the CPM.

He is the reason the state leadership is wary of taking a hardline stand against the dissidents, for this could lead a sizeable section of party officials and cadre to walk out.

The rebels, however, suffered heavy losses at the last state party conference in Malappuram. Twelve of Achuthanandan’s supporters lost the election to the state committee after angering the leadership by contesting. Two were dropped from the state party secretariat, constituted after the conference.

Vijayan has also stripped Achuthanandan of his post as editor of the party newspaper, Desabhimani, the third-largest daily in Kerala.

On his part, Achuthanandan refused to defend Vijayan when the Assembly debated the controversial Rs 375-crore power contract awarded to the Canada-based SNC Lavalin during the state secretary’s tenure as power minister in the E.K. Nayanar cabinet.

The CPM central leadership is appalled at the goings-on. “The party expresses serious concern at the persisting disunity and factional tendencies in Kerala,” the organisational report at the 18th party congress said.

The CPM has set up two committees to identify those who engineered the factionalism at the state conference and those behind media leaks.

“Party leaders should not make any public utterances expressing their differences either impliedly or explicitly,” the report said. “Some of them behave like members of some bourgeois political party.”

Sure enough, the state CPM bosses are into all sorts of money-spinning businesses. The party has set up the thriving Kairali TV channel. The CPM-backed Rubwood, based in the northern Kannur district, is the state’s leading furniture manufacturer.

In Kannur, the Malabar Pleasures Ltd, a water theme park, is nearing completion. Its promoters are district CPM leaders, who floated the project with funds from party-backed cooperatives.

A multi-crore superspeciality hospital-cum-shopping complex is coming up at Thalassery in Kannur.

But the real battle will be over the chief ministership in 2006. Vijayan is backed by the strong Kannur lobby. Achuthanandan was poised to be chief minister in 1996 but he lost the election because of sabotage, paving the way for Nayanar’s third term in office.

Pro-CPM intellectuals, led by Prof. M.N. Vijayan, have lent an ideological underpinning to the factional war.

The latest issue of the Padham magazine, which they have revived, targeted the party secretary and his lieutenants, such as party central secretariat member M.A. Baby and legislator T.M. Thomas Isaac, terming them revisionists.

Baby has been attacked for his “bourgeois proclivities for high-society life” while Isaac has been accused of working to dilute the party’s class character and turn it into a social democratic outfit. A work by Isaac and US anthropologist Richard Franke is seen as advancing class cooperation in opposition to class conflict.

Dramatis Personae

Official group
• Pinarayi Vijayan, state CPM secretary. Restrained by central leadership from
sidelining the rebels completely. Eyeing chief minister’s post if party wins 2006 polls
• MA Baby, party central secretariat member, accused of “bourgeois proclivities for
high-society life”
• TM Thomas Isaac, MLA, accused of promoting class cooperation instead of class
conflict and thus attempting to turn party into a social democratic outfit

Rebels
• VS Achuthanandan, 79, leader of the Opposition in Assembly. Has been with CPM since its birth in 1964. His supporters lost heavily at the last state party conference. Stripped of his post as editor of party newspaper Desabhimani. Will be P. Vijayan’s rival for chief minister’s post in 2006 elections
• S Sharma, former power minister. Dropped from party state secretariat at last state CPM conference
•M Chandran, dropped from party state secretariat at last state CPM conference
• Prof MN Vijayan, radical Left intellectual. Has accused Baby and Isaac of revisionism