Monday, August 13, 2007

Central leadership intervenes in Kerala CPI (M) affairs

The central leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has placed before the state unit guidelines for the meetings at various levels to be held in advance of the party congress due next year.

It has also intervened and frustrated the State Committee's effort to absolve Central Committee member EP Jayarajan of responsibility in the party newspaper Deshabhimani's acceptance of money from a tainted source.

A close examination of the guidelines reveals that they have been drawn up with a view to ensuring that factionalism, which has been rampant in Kerala for many years, does not get out of hand.

The State party has been witnessing a struggle between factions led by State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan for several years.

As the two leaders publicly traded accusations, the Politburo took the unusual step of suspending both of them from that policy-making body. This resulted in a lull in the factional warfare, which was very short-lived.

As factionalism reared its head again, the central leadership decided to step in and save inner-party democracy.

When Pinarayi Vijayan became the State Secretary, many saw him as an agent of modernisation.

Achuthanandan, a member of the old guard, whose party ancestry goes back to the days of the Vayalar-Punnapra agitation of the 1940s, was widely perceived as a leader eager to keep the organisation on the Stalinist path. Over the years the popular perception underwent a change.

Achuthanandan, as leader of the opposition during the last United Democratic Front regime, took up a number of issues like encroachments on forests and government land and sex rackets.

In the process, he came to be identified in the popular mind as one who is ready to take up cudgels against the mightiest on behalf of the poor.

The alleged siphoning off of funds through a deal with SNC Lavalin, a Canadian company, cast a shadow on Vijayan. He was Minister for Electricity when the deal was struck.

He had personally led the team that had gone to Canada for negotiations. The Central Bureau of Investigation is now probing the scandal on the orders of the High Court.

Two scandals that surfaced recently seriously dented the credibility of the party's official leadership.

One is the alleged payment of a bribe of Rs 10 million by a finance company to K. Venugopal, who was deputy general manager of Deshabhimani, to help it in a criminal case.

The other is the acceptance by Deshabhimani of Rs20 million from Santiago Martin, a lottery operator wanted by the police in connection with some cases of fraud.

The State Committee pinned the blame for the first scandal personally on Venugopal and sacked him from both the party and the newspaper.

However, many people suspected the money was meant for somebody high up in the State party.

After a futile attempt to defend Deshabhimani's acceptance of Martin's contribution as a normal business transaction, the State Committee announced that it would return the amount.

Deshabhimani is under the control of EP Jayarajan, who is a member of Pinarayi Vijayan's inner circle.

The State Committee tried to shield him by claiming that he was not aware of the source of the money. During the weekend meeting, held in the presence of three Politburo members, the State Committee was obliged to give up the whitewash effort.

The central leadership is believed to have had a hand in persuading it to change its stance.

Under the principles of 'democratic centralism' adopted by the CPI (M) a higher party forum has the authority to override the decisions of the lower units.

However, on some recent occasions the State leadership was able to defy the national leadership and get away with it.

When the central control commission asked the State Committee to take back some members who were suspended from the party, it ignored the directive.

The central leadership acquiesced in this act of defiance. Observers saw it as indicative of its unwillingness or inability to act decisively against the well-entrenched state leadership.

They even suggested that since the Kerala unit is the party's main source of funds the central leadership is unable to assert its authority.

Against this background, the latest developments can be seen as the first sign that the central leadership is ready to intervene effectively to save the State party from factionalism. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 13, 2007.

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