Pinarayi Vijayan or Achuthanandan? The real battle for the CPM in Kerala is yet to begin

Although there are no visible trends in Kerala elections this time, the general impression one gets in every conversation with a group of people is that it’s going to be the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the CPM that’s going to rule the state. A few pre-poll surveys with unknown or dubious methodologies have also said the same.

The next question is who will be the chief minister. And there lies a major problem.

Till some time back, there was no doubt about who will lead the CPM and the LDF in the state assembly if the Left parties come to power — Pinarayi Vijayan; but now, it’s not as unequivocal as it had been a few weeks ago. His ex arch rival and 92 year old VS Achuthanandan has also thrown his hat into the ring. He may be old, and may have had his fill both as the chief minister and the opposition leader while Vijayan was toiling for the party, but he still wants his dream run to continue. This will be the biggest challenge for the CPM after the elections.

It’s not just the people that throng Achuthanandan's public rallies and watch him on Live TV (many of his campaign speeches are telecast live by Malayalam news channels - something that they don’t do for other leaders this frequently) who want him back. It’s he himself. Every step he takes these days is obviously aimed at two things - one help LDF win and two, help himself.

Veteran CPM leader VS Achuthanandan. AFP

Veteran CPM leader VS Achuthanandan. AFP

He and his propaganda think-tank have always played the people’s card while keeping theirs close to their chest. Whenever the veteran leader was in trouble within the party, almost as in a thermochemical reaction, people spontaneously rose up in support. And it happened many times, including when he was denied an assembly ticket by the Vijayan-controlled state unit of the party. Needless to say, these uprisings helped him big time.

Since Sitaram Yechury became the party General Secretary, Achuthanandan seemed to have mellowed down and reconciled to Vijayan's rightful claim to the leadership. To be fair to Vijayan, two situations had unjustly kept him away from parliamentary roles at the prime of his political life - a suspicious corruption litigation by the ruling party in which he was finally discharged by a court, and the party secretaryship for three terms. Now that he is free and his party is ready for him to lead the LDF government, Achuthanandan doesn’t want to give it away that easy.

Not that the nonagenarian is making any overt claims or counter-moves, but he and his people are vigorously encouraging his personality cult that has once again begun to loom large over Vijayan. In front of the Achuthanandan cult, Vijayan looks dwarfed. Achuthanandan’s speeches are electrifying, imaginative and replete with filmy punch-lines, while Vijayan is pale, longwinded and boring. Campaign speeches of the former clearly betray a strategy, while the latter seems to be going through the motions. The men who bat for him, both party beneficiaries and proxies, look irritating and plain offensive in TV debates.

Besides his trademark platform speeches, two recent moves that gave Achuthanandan the extra-edge are his Facebook page and and an exclusive “App” that packages him as a star. In no time, he (obviously his advisors) has made the Facebook page a potent weapon of mass destruction. He uses both his speeches and his Facebook messages in continuum - sometimes he starts his attack on the opposition on his Facebook page and takes it to his speeches, and sometimes, he starts off from the rallies and continues it on Facebook. It’s an extremely volatile mixture of allegations, innuendos, derision and half-truths delivered in a form that the people are addicted to.

Unable to match his never ending arsenal and personality cult, the opposition is literally running for cover.

Oomen Chandy, his target number one, has already lost this publicity battle and looks extremely vulnerable with his counter-moves provoking more virulent attacks. If this duel continues to escalate, Chandy will be left with no option but to back out. The veteran has also taken on the state unit chief of the the Congress VM Sudheeran, another boring speaker, and the leader of the newly formed BJDS, the principal ally of the BJP, Vellappally Natesan, known for his vituperation. Achuthanandan’s plan is extremely precise - pick on a few strategic targets and pummel them. Nothing scares him or dissuades him. Obviously, popular support eggs him on.

This popular support, which is comparatively nothing short of phenomenal, will continue even after the elections when the CPM and the LDF meet to choose their Chief Minister. There will be enormous public pressure on the CPM state and central leadership to choose Achuthanandan as the Chief Minister, but they cannot overlook Vijayan.

Although the CPM swear by rule, Leninist discipline and coalition ethics, Vijayan had been groomed for this role for some time and there couldn’t have been any obstacle, but for the surge in popularity for his senior rival. The biggest challenge for both Pinarayi and the CPM will be from the state’s electronic media, which of late seemed to have been eating out of their hands. With Oomen Chandy of little consequence, the entire media block (except for the party channels and lone crony-channel) has to look for something sensational to keep their TRP high.

And the only newsworthy issue that will keep their studios noisy will be the chief ministerial tussle. Their “opinion-surveys” have already shown that on the leadership question, Vijayan has lost out to Achuthanandan by a big margin. So soon, we will see the big duel back on TV while the CPM sweats it out to find a compromise that doesn’t hurt.

Updated Date: May 03, 2016 16:08 PM

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