Why VS Achuthanandan, the 'CPM's Fidel Castro', was forced to give up the CM crown

VS Achuthanandan avoided repeated questions on chief ministership on Saturday at a presser in Thiruvananthapuram. The CPM’s senior-most leader said he will continue to be the ‘kavalaal’ (sentinel) of the people of Kerala, taking up their issues. Achuthanandan asserted that he is not someone who expects positions, thus, indirectly saying that any alternative positions party might offer to pacify him wouldn’t be acceptable.

The 92-year old was indeed hopeful of chief ministership after the Left Democratic Front (LDF’s) big win in the state (91 out of 140 seats). But the CPM chose party ‘strongman’ Pinarayi Vijayan for the post, citing Achuthanandan’s age and health issues. But, it is doubtful if Achuthanandan himself shared party view on his health. A few days ago, when reporters asked the veteran CPM leader about his interest in the CM position, the nonagenarian didn’t mince his words.

File image of VS Achuthanandan. AFP

File image of VS Achuthanandan. AFP

“If the party wants me to take up responsibility, I will not shy away.” There were also reports in the local media that Achuthanandan sought a brief-term as Kerala chief minister but the party denied that too.

"I am completely healthy," Achuthanandan said on Sunday, while interacting with a forum of students that had gathered to facilitate him in Thiruvananthapuram. "There are no health issues. During the campaign for the 16 May polls, I had campaigned from Parasala to Kannur, addressed several meetings. My health now is the same as during the campaign. Is there any change in me now?" Achuthanandan asked.

In the Saturday presser, Achuthanandan thanked all party workers and people who supported his election campaign in the 14 districts of the state, in a way, reminding them that he is the one who guided the party to a huge victory in the 2016 Assembly polls.

Achuthanandan is, indeed, LDF’s saviour in Kerala.

At the age of 92, and despite his ‘health issues’, Achuthanandan travelled across 14 districts of the state, covering 200 kilometres daily, through 62 constituencies, for 14 days, drawing large crowds with his powerful attack on the Congress-led UDF government for its governance failures and series of scams. He promised the supporters action from the new LDF government on issues such as the solar scam, bar case and dubious land deals by the UDF government. Just why the party chose him to head the campaign and contest the elections knowing his health issues, but used the same reasons to deny him the berth of chief minister is something his supporters have begun to question.

The reason isn’t hard to surmise.

Without Achuthanandan’s backing and campaign, it would have been tough for the Left front to pull off such a big victory against the Congress-led UDF and stave off challenges from the BJP-led third front emerging in the state. The CPM leader, who is the only living member of the group of 32 that split from the CPI’s National Council in 1964 to form the CPM, commands such a following and such public support that CPM’s central leadership (the Politburo) had to intervene in 2011 after the state unit denied a seat for Achuthanandan in the Assembly polls. Achuthanandan contested from Malampuzha constituency and won by a large margin.

Born on 20 October, 1923, in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, Achuthanandan lost his parents at an early age. After finishing Class VII in school, he took up the job in a coir factory and soon began his early political life by organising coir workers and farmers in Kuttanadu in the Alappuzha district. Achuthanandan’s growth as a political leader was quick after his participation in the communist movement and Punnapra-Vayalar freedom struggle against the Travancore Diwan, CP Ramaswamy Iyer’s policies. Achuthanandan was arrested and was imprisoned for five years, and has spent four years underground during his political life.

Vijayan, who was once a trusted lieutenant of Achuthnandan, developed differences with him at some point.

The differences soon transformed into public verbal attacks, even forcing the CPM to suspend both Vijayan and Achuthanandan in 2007 from the Politburo. Vijayan was reinstated later. Achuthanandan’s public comments against Vijayan in the SNC-Lavlin corruption case irked the party leadership prompting it to warn the leader and turned the majority in state leadership against Achuthanandan.

Achuthanandan’s difference of stance with Vijayan in Revolutionary Marxist Party leader, TP Chandrashekharan's murder in 2012 and his letter to the then Congress government supporting a CBI inquiry in the case too turned the party against him. But, the CPM couldn’t afford to sideline Achuthanandan given his mass public support. Within the party’s state leadership and in the Politburo, Vijayan enjoys stronger support than Achuthanandan.

The Politburo has evidently attempted to pacify Achuthanandan by calling him CPM’s Fidel Castro in India. The fact is even if the Politburo wanted to offer the position of chief minister to Achuthanandan, the decision would have met with strong resistance from the party’s state unit.

He knows this and has accordingly chosen so far to remain silent on the party decision when CPM general secretary, Sitaram Yechury announced the decision last week. But, at Saturday’s presser, Achuthanandan gave an indirect warning to Vijayan, when he said he will continue to be the sentinel to guard the interests of public (note the words: He didn’t say the party).

For the new LDF government under Vijayan, that’s a word of caution meaning that the senior-most leader will act as a corrective force within the party if the Vijayan government fails to act on crucial issues such as the solar scam, bar case and illegal land deals. Remember, even in the past, Achuthanandan has tactically withdrawn from his political adversaries within CPM’s state unit, only to strike back at an opportune time.

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Updated Date: May 23, 2016 09:56:47 IST

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