The trial of strength in the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), has ended in a decisive victory for state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, but he still has to live with his vanquished rival, VS Achuthanandan, as the Chief Minister.
The new State Committee, elected unanimously at the conference held at Kottayam last week, is more heavily weighted in Pinarayi Vijayan's favour than the outgoing one.
Of the 11 newly inducted members, only one belongs to the Achuthanandan faction, making it even more of a minority than before.
Immediately after his re-election as state secretary for the fourth time, Pinarayi Vijayan said it was the beginning of a new era. He added that the sectarianism that had gripped the party for several years was over. It was, in effect, a proclamation of victory.
The principle of "democratic centralism," which the CPI-M follows, enjoins upon the minority to surrender to the wishes of the majority. To drive home the point, Vijayan warned that no breach of discipline would be tolerated.
Achuthanandan listened silently as Vijayan's supporters attacked him in the delegates' session. At the public meeting that followed, he promised, as was expected of a party loyalist, that he would take into account the members' criticism. General Secretary Prakash Karat, who headed the national leaders present at the conference, endorsed Vijayan's observations about the end of sectarianism and maintenance of party discipline.
Karat also said the State party would forge ahead with Vijayan as secretary and Achuthanandan as Chief Minister.
These words signalled a message to the victorious faction that the central leadership did not favour a change of leadership at the governmental level.
Media reports interpreted Achuthanandan's reported silence at a Cabinet meeting when the controversial HMT land deal came up for consideration as evidence of his 'surrender' to the official faction.
Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, a Pinarayi supporter, had played an active role in facilitating the sale of land by HMT to a Mumbai real estate firm.
Talking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Achuthanandan said that although sectarianism had ended ideological differences could surface from time to time. Pinarayi Vijayan dismissed his observation as a mere verbal exercise.
The remarks of the two leaders indicate that the media can continue to expect a bonanza of innuendoes and even public spat from them.
Karat announced at the conference that the party would draw up a set of guidelines with a view to improving co-ordination between the organisational and governmental wings.
Earlier the central leadership had constituted a five-member co-ordination committee, with equal representation for the two factions, for the same purpose. It failed as the state leadership did not give it a fair trial.
Apparently the central leadership has come up with the new formula, encouraged by its assessment that the guidelines it had provided for the conduct of the State conference had succeeded in checking sectarianism.
Whether or not sectarianism is over, the two factions will find it necessary to put aside their differences and pull together since bugle sounds for an election battle are already in the air.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who was in Kerala on Friday, accused the CPI-M-led LDF of misrule and said, "That we are together at the Centre does not mean they can do anything here." She drew pointed attention to attacks by the CPI-M on the judiciary and to its interventions in the education sphere.
On earlier visits to the State, Sonia Gandhi had avoided direct attack on the CPI-M, which is supporting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre from outside.
The departure from this practice can be seen as part of the preparations for the inevitable confrontation between the two parties in the Lok Sabha elections, which are due next year but can come earlier.
Both Achuthanandan and Vijayan immediately joined issue with her. The Chief Minister termed her remarks "immature." The party secretary accused her of levelling false charges against his party with political motives.
It remains to be seen whether the proclaimed end of sectarianism and the truce dictated by electoral considerations will result in an improvement in the performance of the State government, which had been badly hit as the Chief Minister and ministers belonging to the opposite faction were working at cross purposes in several matters. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 18, 2008.