In an absolute demonstration of defiance of the central and state leaderships of the party, the senior-most CPM leader and former chief minister of Kerala, VS Achuthanandan, today visited the family of TP Chandrasekharan, a dissident who was brutally murdered a month ago in the northern district of Kozhikkode.
His unannounced visit has plunged the CPM into a deep crisis, as it has been the target of unprecedented public and media ire for its suspected role in the murder. Several leaders of the party had been arrested in the recent days for their alleged role in the murder.
That the veteran Marxist chose to visit the slain leader’s house on the day of a crucial assembly bye-election in Thiruvananthapuram district has rattled the CPM. Many see his gesture as a mid-day message to the left-leaning voters that his conscience is not with the party.
Since most of the afternoon voters are usually fence-sitters, the leader’s signal might prove immensely costly to the CPM that is betting its life in the constituency.
The impact of the veteran’s visit was so dramatic that more than half-a-dozen news channels in the state suspended its election coverage and continuously beamed the dramatic visuals from Chandrasekharan’s house. Thousands of people gathered to receive and cheer him.
The most striking were the emotional moments when he held the hands of the slain leader’s wife and his mother. While Chandrasekharan’s wife broke down holding his hands, his mother wailed. The channels played the visuals in never-ending loops.
Achuthanandan’s strategic move appears to signal the last stage of his lonely battle with the hardline official leadership of the party, headed by Pinaranyi Vijayan.
Waiting for a tipping point, he seized the murder and the public outrage against the party, as an opportunity for his final assault against Vijayan and his ring of supporters. Maintaining a consistently contradictory view of the official state leadership of the party regarding its role in the murder, he openly sided with popular sentiments against CPM.
While Vijayan and his supporters claimed that the CPM had nothing to do with the murder and that the party was being persecuted by motivated right-wingers who are bent upon destroying the communist movement in Kerala, Achuthanandan called for non-interference of the party in the investigation to bring out the real culprits.
He also didn’t endorse the line of Vijayan and his supporters that the charges were trumped up and that the media was in collusion with the “anti-communists”. When some of the CPM leaders brazenly threatened police officers involved in the investigation and filed a defamation case to restrain the media from publishing details of the case, he outrightly opposed it.
Achuthanandan’s calculated brinkmanship will now push the central leadership also into a crisis because it knows the electoral value of his legendary following among the people of the state. In the past, when the state unit of the party (read Vijayan) had decided not to field him in elections, the central leadership intervened and exempted him because of this following. He has been the single-most important mascot for winning elections for the CPM and is the most popular political leader in recent times.
The Pinarayi-led Kerala unit will certainly put pressure on the central leadership to take action against the veteran leader and it may have no choice this time. With the electoral rout and a terribly hostile Mamta government in West Bengal, it is literally hostage to the powerful and asset-rich unit of the party unit in Kerala. In fact, the Pinaranyi faction that runs the party in Kerala is more powerful than the central leadership.
Today’s visit by Achuthanandan raises two critical questions: will he leave the party or will he be expelled?
Either way, the result will the same. The party will witness unprecedented erosion of its supporters, if not the cadres. Political observers feel that the erosion in the southern districts will be debilitating for the party.
Politically, Achuthanandan can easily walk into the formation of the dissidents such as the Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP), formed by the slain leader, and a Left Coordination Committee (LCC) formed by ideology-driven leftists. In fact, Achuthanandan of late has been speaking the language of the RMP and the LCC that the CPM leadership has gone far too right and has been influenced by neo-liberal interests.
If the CPM’s prospects in Kerala are weakened, the central leadership will be in a precarious condition. For it to survive, it requires at least one strong state unit.
Meanwhile, the official leadership of the CPM in the state is finding cold comfort in the brutal authority of the party structure and the history of some popular leaders who paled into nothingness after leaving the party in the past.
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