Vijayan is Kerala CM, but he will have a VS as a thorn in his flesh

Silence, it is said, is half-consent. But it can also be half-dissent.

VS Achutanandan, the CPM’s 93-year-old fire-breathing leader in Kerala, was silent when party’s general secretary Sitaram Yechury told him on Friday he won’t be the chief minister. A day after the party won the Kerala Assembly elections with a clear majority, Yechury told him that the “party” favoured Pinarayi Vijayan. For Achuthanandan, the 72-year-old Vijayan is no ordinary enemy. He is an arch enemy, one he can never compromise with.

Pinarayi Vijayan. Image courtesy: Twitter/@vijayanpinarayi

Pinarayi Vijayan. Image courtesy: Twitter/@vijayanpinarayi

When VS, as Achuthanandan is known as, suggested that he should be the chief minister for at least some time to implement some of the party’s election promises, before giving way to Vijayan, Yechury politely rejected the idea. VS, who normally minces no words and is known to call a spade a spade, only maintained sphinx-lie silence and left the party office without a word. “It’s the kind of silence that can be very disturbing,” a party insider told the Firstpost.

When in a foul mood—VS is often in such a frame of mind—he walks out of party meetings without a word, and he has done it before. And Yechury, friend and mentor of VS, knows that well enough.

On his part, VS knew that Yechury would have liked him to be the chief minister but was helpless. VS can’t forget that Yechury had rushed to Kerala to ensure that he contested the elections. It’s no secret that the Kerala unit of the party, under the control of Vijayan, who was the state secretary of the party for 16 years over four terms between 1998 and 2015, was reluctant to even allow VS to contest the 16 May election. The state unit had denied him the ticket in 2011 but the politburo got him one.

VS also knows that Yechury’s own rival in Delhi, former general secretary Prakash Karat, who was also in the Kerala capital on Friday, would stop at nothing to make his own man Vijayan the chief minister.

In a way, the Left’s disaster in West Bengal has a lot to do with the turn the fate of VS has taken in Kerala. That’s because the utter flop of the Left-Congress alliance, an idea of Yechury and his supporters, brought down his stock in the party. And the nonagenarian in Kerala must have seen the writing on the wall for himself the moment he heard of the party’s debacle in West Bengal. That perhaps explains the silence.

Party insiders say that when the opinion polls were out projecting a TMC victory, Karat and his friends at once seized the chance to put down Yechury with some razor-sharp barbs at party meetings.

The idea of Left joining hands with Congress was an anathema to Karat. But, determined to do better than Karat in building up the party, Yechury fell for it, and VS was the only leader in Kerala who openly supported the idea. During the ten years that Karat was the party’s general secretary before Yechury, the party’s tally in Lok Sabha had crashed from 43 members in 2005 to 15 in 2009 and just nine in 2014, and Yechury wants to do better.

But with the result in Bengal being what it is, Yechury maintains a low profile. So does VS. Karat, Vijayan and the “Kerala lobby” now have a decisive upper hand in their war against Yechury, VS and the “Bengal lobby”.

When he flew to Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, Yechury was in no mood to suggest VS as chief minister in Kerala. Yechury can never forget how Vijayan and his camp had tried hard last year to stop his election as the party’s general secretary and give the post to Kerala’s Ramachandran Pillai. Yet he had to agree to the choice of Vijayan.

When Yechury told the media that the party had not picked VS as the CM because of his advancing age and when he said “comrade VS is like Fidel Castro in Cuba who will play an advisor’s role”, neither the reporters nor VS himself who was present there were fooled. Again, the party’s old war horse did not utter a word, though his aides said he might address the press separately later.

A close associate of VS points out that when he was the chief ministerial candidate in the 1996 elections, his election from Mararikulam was sabotaged by “enemies within”. Then the LDF won and EK Nayanar became the chief minister. VS became the chief minister in 2006, and his camp claims that the front would have returned to power in 2011 with him at the helm again but for the “enemies within”. The LDF lost the 2011 polls by four seats and 0.89 vote share. The VS faction, which believes that it was his popular appeal that brought about the latest victory, is convinced he has every right to stake his claim for the chief minister’s post again.

Those who support Vijayan argue that he “sacrificed” power to build up the party in Kerala. He quit as a minister to take up the party post in 1998 and left that job last year only because he had crossed the limit of tenures. They have no doubt that if anybody has a right to be the Kerala CM now, it’s Vijayan.

And Vijayan has won. But there is no doubt that he needs to constantly watch his back to find what VS is up to. A businessmen with close links to the LDF told Firstpost that “if Vijayan is the CM, VS won’t let him do his work, and if VS is the CM Vijayan won’t let him do his work.”

For now, the truce that was enforced between the warring leaders during the election run-up in the mutual interest of both, still continues. Now that the elections are over, there is only one question that is upfront: how long will this truce last?

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Updated Date: May 21, 2016 08:22:22 IST

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