THE sectarian conflict in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has set the world of literature ablaze. It has made a greater impact on creative writing in Malayalam than any other political development in recent memory.
For several months now, poets and short story writers have been churning out material with a direct bearing on the faction fight, enlivening the pages of the periodicals. While many of them are critical of the party's official leadership, some are very supportive of it.
A poem by KC Umeshbabu, who poured scorn on the party leadership, brought forth immediate retribution. The CPI (M) fraction to which he belonged expelled him from its membership and the Kannur district unit of the Purogamana Kala Sahithya Sangham, of which he was the secretary, removed him from the post.
The Sangham, a common platform of writers and artists who are party members or fellow-travellers, was led until recently by MN Vijayan, a well-known litterateur.
Though not a party member, he was the editor of the party journal, Deshabhimani weekly, and recognised as the party's spokesman on literary issues.
Vijayan became persona non grata to the party when he became editor of Padham, a short-lived publication that charged the official leadership with diluting Marxist principles. Now he is out of the Sangham and is a vehement critic of the official leadership's reformist agenda.
At its recent conference, the Sangham reconstituted its executive committee, dropping its Secretary, Karivelloor Murali, and a few others. Observers saw it as an attempt to tighten the party's control over the organization. However, Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, who has not been with the party leadership fully, was retained as President.
Umashbabu had published his controversial poem in Janshakthi, a weekly launched by a group which is aligned with Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. Disciplinary action did not diminish his enthusiasm for political criticism. Within weeks, he wrote another stinging piece, this time in the Mathrubhumi weekly.
Others who have aimed darts at the party leadership include N Satchitanandan and KG Sankara Pillai, both of them leading poets of the present generation.
Several prominent short story writers, too, have joined the political battle.
P Surendran, in a story Che, published in Janashakthi, made a trenchant expose of the changing lifestyle of the party's top brass. He also wrote another critical story Aa pasuvinte maranam (Death of that cow) in Mathrubhumi.
The official leadership has its backers too. M Mukundan's story Dinosaurukalude kaalam (The age of the dinosaurs), which appeared in Mathrubhumi, was a strong indictment of Chief Minister Achuthanandan's demolition campaign in Munnar.
Mukundan, a native of Mahe and long-time resident of Delhi , moved to Kerala recently and was picked by Culture Minister MA Baby, who belongs to the official faction, for the post of Chairman of the State Sahitya Akademi. This circumstance has prompted some to make the uncharitable comment that the story was a return favour.
It is not at the level of creative writing alone that factional loyalties are manifesting themselves.
A few days ago, 58 self-styled cultural activists, issued a sharply worded press statement in aid of the beleaguered party leadership. It was ostensibly a plea to the media to act in a mature manner. Its purpose, however, was to defend the State party leaders who have attracted unfavourable attention in the context of irregular financial deals. At best, it can be described as a command performance by party loyalists at worst, as a hatchet job.
It lambasted former judges and columnists for masquerading as experts and casting aspersions on leaders who had been in public life for decades. It alleged that their activities were destroying Kerala's leftwing secular mind.
P Govinda Pillai, the eminent Marxist litterateur, headed the signatories. Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan was not among them but office-bearers of the Purogamana Kala Sahithya Sangham and KEN Kunhammamed, on whom MN Vijayan's mantle has fallen, were.
A few persons from outside the party ranks, like poet Balachandran Chullikkad, also subsctibed to the press statement. However, the bilk of the signatories were minor film activists and staff members of the CPI (M)'s television channels and newspapers.
A group of pro-United Democratic Front writers responded with a counter-statement.
They charged the CPI (M) with attempting to silence the media.
Malayalam cinema has made its own distinct contribution with a movie, Arabikkatha (Arabian Story). Its central character, Mukundan, is a communist of the classical variety, who lands in a Gulf State after being tricked into indebtedness by a new-generation party leader.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 30, 2007