Cabinet rank for VS? Vijayan camp plays safe as Achuthanandan rules hearts
The politburo wanted the senior leader to be given an independent charge which does not necessitate any reporting to the chief minister.
The CPM politburo’s decision to offer veteran party leader VS Achuthanandan a post with a cabinet rank has put the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala in a tight spot. Party sources said accommodating the nonagenarian leader in the government headed by his arch-rival and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, without disturbing the power equations, wouldn’t be easy given their differences.
The politburo wanted the senior leader to be given an independent charge which does not necessitate any reporting to the chief minister, but ensures that he continues to receive all the benefits he has been getting as opposition leader in the last five years. The politburo has not specified the post. It has left the matter to the decision of the LDF and the Vijayan-government. However, from the deliberations, it appears that the politburo is trying to sideline him by offering an ornamental position.
It is not clear whether the former chief minister will agree to hold any position without powers. Achuthanandan avoided questions on the politburo’s decision saying that he had not received any official communication from Delhi. The 92-year-old leader, who was christened as ‘Fidel Castro of Kerala’ by party general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, prefers to be chairman of the LDF with cabinet rank like the position Sonia Gandhi held in the UPA governments.
A note he handed over to Yechury expressing his preference, during the swearing-in-ceremony of the Pinarayi government, on 26 May, had sparked off a controversy. The note also demanded his reinstatement in the state secretariat, which is the policy-decision making body of the CPM.
However, LDF insiders feel it would create two power centres and that may affect the smooth functioning of the government. They believe that such an arrangement did not create friction in UPA as the then prime minister Manmohan Singh was Sonia Gandhi’s choice and Singh never sought to question her authority as the president of the Congress and UPA chairperson.
Though Kerala started the coalition experiment in the country, neither fronts never had a separate chairman. Both the fronts and the governments were headed by the person who was chosen as chief minister. In fact, the CPM politburo also wants to avoid two power centres in the state as there are sharp differences between the two senior leaders.
While Achuthanandan is a hardliner who sticks to the party ideology, Vijayan is known as a pragmatic leader who thinks that the development of the state is not possible without private capital investments. In fact, the Chief Minister has made his pro-capital approach clear in the interactions he had with the media since he has assumed office. Achuthanandan considers Pinarayi’s development concept more capitalistic and a clear deviation from the Left policies. The former chief minister does not brook any deviation from the Left ideology. The differences between the two had led to open clashes resulting in the suspension of the two from the politburo in the past.
The two had buried the hatchet following the intervention by the national leadership on the eve of the election. It had sought to present the united face of the party in the election by asking the two to lead the campaign jointly. The strategy paid off well with the LDF registering a thumping victory by winning 91 of the 140 seats in the polls.
Many believe that the CPM decision to anoint Pinarayi as the Chief Minister was a travesty of the mandate as the campaign was led by Achuthanandan from the front. CP John, Communist Marxist Party leader and former Planning Board member, has termed the denial of chief ministership to Achuthanandan as a betrayal of the electorate. He said that the selection of Pinarayi as the Chief Minister was an act of hijacking.
The Chief Minister’s camp is apparently worried over the popularity of Achuthanandan. Pinarayi’s followers fear that Achuthnandan might eclipse the Chief Minister if he is given an independent position in the government. Achuthanandan has already made his intentions clear by saying that he will remain as a ‘sentinel’ of the people, taking up their issues, with or without power.
In fact, the advisors of the Chief Minister have been trying to make a conscious effort to project Pinarayi as the undisputed leader. An advertisement featuring him released in the newspapers across the country on the day of the swearing-in of the government is considered as part of this exercise. This many consider as a deviation from the party’s ideology that discourages promotion of personality cult. The advertisement with a picture of the Chief Minister said: “The Pinarayi Vijayan government is committed to keep its promise.”
In fact, the attempt to project Pinarayi had began even before the elections. His picture had dominated the posters and flex banners erected for the ‘Nava Kerala March’ he led from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram in the run up to the election. Achuthanandan, who was the star campaigner in the election, had not figured anywhere in the promotion. However, he topped the popularity ranking in almost all the pre-poll and exit poll surveys. Pinarayi came even behind former chief minister Oommen Chandy in the ranking.
The Pinarayi camp will, therefore, be extra cautious while deciding a suitable position for Achuthanandan, who, despite his advanced age, is not losing any opportunity to be with the masses. They apparently do not want the rival leader to be a thorn in Pinarayi’s flesh.
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