Pinarayi bows to party on breweries
Kerala’s Left Front government has under CPM pressure cancelled the licences granted to three breweries and a distillery in August when the state was reeling under a deluge.
Announcing the decision on Monday, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had only four days ago vehemently defended the issuance of the licences, said his government was “making a small compromise” because of the need “to stand united for the reconstruction of the state”.
The decision is being generally seen as a victory for the leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, the first to bring the issue under public glare. Alleging the four sanctions were “steeped in mystery”, the Congress leader had accused the state government of corruption and nepotism.
Politically, it is a setback for Vijayan who had so far wielded the last word in the government and the state CPM, drawing comparisons with Narendra Modi for his authoritarian ways.
This is perhaps the first time the CPM state secretariat has overruled a decision taken by Vijayan since he became state party secretary in 1998.
Vijayan’s grip over party and government has been such that no minister dared speak up in front of him. State CPM secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is seen as a “Yes, comrade” rubber stamp.
With the CPM’s decline in Bengal and, lately, Tripura, Vijayan’s stature within the party has grown at the national level too, posing a threat to party general secretary Sitaram Yechury with tacit support from the Prakash Karat-Ramachandran Pillai camp.
Reports had claimed that a CPM state secretariat meeting last week asked the government to do a “thorough evaluation” of the steps taken to grant the licences since the party had not been taken into confidence beforehand.
The party leadership had dismissed the reports as another attempt by the “syndicate mafia”, a term for the media in CPM circles, to undermine the party and the government. But insiders had confirmed that Vijayan was under pressure to review the decision.
That the state CPM and its secretary desisted from commenting on the subject seemed to support this view, although the party deputed senior members to defend the government decision at TV discussions.
The party central leadership had earlier refused to intervene, saying it was for the state unit to sort the issue out.
Significantly, Vijayan chose to broach the subject only at the fag end of a news conference he had called to explain the government’s stand on the Sabarimala controversy.
Even then he tried to play it down, saying it was not a victory for the Congress and that “those interested (in opening breweries) can still send in their applications”, and giving the excise department a clean chit.
After coming to power in 2016, riding on a promise to reopen all the bars closed by the previous Congress-led government, the Left Front had been open in its discourse on its liquor policy. But the four licences were an exception, the secrecy giving the CPM a bad name.
Leading front partner CPI, which apparently did not know about the grant of the licences before the matter became public, now says the cancellation will “bring back transparency within the front”.