The Piravom by-election in Kerala was meant to be a climax in the life-and-death battle for the ruling Oomen Chandy government in Kerala; but a week before the poll-day, a mysterious resignation of a sitting CPM MLA has left the opposition party stunned and furious.
The man in question, R Selvaraj, MLA from the Neyyattinkara constituency in Thiruvananthapuram gave absolutely no hint to his party leadership that he was about to drop a bomb, that too at a critical time. Till he handed over his resignation to the speaker, he participated in the assembly proceedings as a CPM member.
The resignation is a huge relief for Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his government. Chandy was riding a difficult coalition government on a wafer-thin majority of just two seats before this development. If the UDF loses the Piravom by-election, Chandy could have been in deep trouble; but with one CPM member gone, the government can breath a little bit easier, even if it loses Piravom. It will still have a majority of two seats.
Besides depleting the bench strength of the opposition, the resignation also provides the UDF with an opportunity to improve its tally in the house. It is most likely that Selvaraj, a popular local leader, who also enjoys the support of the influential Nadar community, will join the UDF and contest the bye-election for the seat when it comes up. Given his popularity in the constituency, UDF thinks that it will be easy to bring it to its kitty. If it wins Piravom as well, the UDF will have a majority of five seats, sans the speaker.
The opposition, particularly the CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and the leader of opposition in the assembly VS Achuthanandan lost no time in accusing the Congress and the UDF in indulging in horse trade. They found the resignation as sheer defection engineered by the Congress.
Vijayan alleged that the MLA had met Chandy at 5 am on the day of his resignation to negotiate his deal. Achuthanandan said contractors who are close to the UDF gave crores of rupees to Selvaraj. He said PC George, a Kerala Congress MLA, known for his loud and controversial statements, was behind the “deal”. The CPI secretary, CK Chandrappan said that UDF and the MLA have betrayed the whole state.
While the opposition was firm in its belief that Congress and the UDF had paid the MLA off, Chandy and his colleagues expressed complete innocence. They said Selvaraj could have got out of the CPM because of the rot in the party. George said more CPM leaders will leave the party in the coming months which will end with Achuthanandan.
Although Selvaraj initially rejected that he would join the UDF, he relaxed his position the next day. “If my supporters wish that I join the UDF, I will consider the option. Nobody is untouchable,” he said. Chandy maintained his stand that it would be a UDF candidate who will contest the election in the now vacant constituency. However, he didn’t mention if it would be Selvaraj or not. Meanwhile, Congress leaders were unambiguous that they would wholeheartedly welcome the MLA if he wished to join the party.
Selvaraj of course has other reasons to quit the CPM. He had been identified with Achuthanandan, who is the bete noire of Vijayan. After the recent party reorganisation, Vijayan has effected a brutal control over the CPM and all the Achuthanandan acolytes have been either purged or completely sidelined.
Selvaraj, was in fact one such victim. He was denied a ticket in his pocket borough Parassala, bordering Tamil Nadu, and was fielded in a UDF stronghold with the purported aim getting him defeated and disgraced. However, his replacement failed in Parassala while he won. Despite his success, he continued to be a non-favourite and was not even allowed to participate in the recent state congress of the party. Selvaraj waited and gave it back at the right time. Reportedly, the entire top brass of the party pleaded with him to withdraw his resignation when they heard about it, but he didn’t yield.
Digging out the developments prior to the resignation, local media and analysts say that it was clearly a negotiated agreement. Some reports alleged that the Chandy government sanctioned schemes worth Rs 19 crores to Selvaraj’s constituency prior to his resignation with a view to appeasing the voters. Chandy refuted the allegations saying the allocations were nothing more than routine.
Anyway, the CPM is wounded and seething. He was only the second CPM MLA who has resigned from the house and the party, that too after 44 years since it first happened. In 1968, an MLA called Kosala Rama Das, forsake his seat saying he had lost belief in parliamentary democracy.
Besides losing the edge it had over the Chandy government, the resignation is a major embarrassment for the CPM, which has been noted by its central leadership as well. Through a series of high-handed purges over the years, Vijayan and his loyalists have enforced an absolute control over the party. There have been allegations that the party has lost its communist ideals and is infested with agents of big businesses and wheeler dealers.
Equally embarrassing for the CPM is the the statement that Selvaraj issued after his resignation, which said that the CPM is now controlled by “anti-socials and power-brokers.” He also said that the party only stood for the interests of businessmen and the underworld. Party workers who stood for communist and socialist values have no space in CPM. Some of the leaders are only interested in amassing wealth; and some have startling (secret) investments, he said.
Over the last few years, the CPM has lost several key leaders who refused to toe the party (read Vijayan) line. Some of Vijayan (read CPM) supporters are often criticised for their intemperate and high handed public behaviour and vulgar language.
The state also has a unique battery of “CPM observers,” who are either former party workers or ideologues, who take on the party leadership on prime time news programmes. They are smarter in ideology-speak than most of the CPM leadership and their main line of attack is that the party under its present leadership has lost its communist ideals.