VS Achuthanandan is a leader who earned goodwill by travelling to the remotest corners to take up issues of concern to the people. Departing from the practice of raising issues inside and outside the legislature and pressing the government to find solutions, he visited trouble spots and conveyed to the suffering people the message that he was with them. It was the popularity that he earned in the process that compelled the party leadership, which had tactfully kept him out of the Assembly elections, to first him the party ticket and then make him the Chief Minister. Even he may not have the feeling that he is able to discharge properly the Chief Minister’s responsibility to provide overall leadership to the administration. Not only impartial observers but the party itself has concluded that the government has not been able to rise up to the expectations of the people. At this stage, when the midpoint in the government’s five-year tenure has been reached, the Chief Minister, the party and the ruling front must be thinking about satisfying the people, who had reposed faith in them, in the remaining period.
In the past 50 years, as a player of power politics, the Communist approach has undergone a big change. While repeatedly declaring that they did not believe in bourgeois democracy, EMS Namboodiripad and his colleagues by and large respected its ways while working within its framework. They performed their functions honouring the democratic tradition of the party laying down policies and the ministers taking administrative decisions in accordance with them. Although there were complains of interference by lower level party units in the administration, the leadership checked it. But later the Communist Party of India (Marxist) departed from that tradition and enforced strict control over the functioning of the government. By deploying faithful cadres on the personal staff, the party leadership acquired the ability to keep a watch on the activities of even ministers belonging to other constituents of the ruling front and to intervene.
Today not only policy matters but even administrative matters are decided at the party level. The party decides which officer should be posted where. It even decides who should be made accused in criminal cases and who should be kept out. The Chief Minister and other ministers have become rubber stamps to be put on decisions taken in the party office. It is an irony of fate that Achuthanandan, who contributed to the development of this system during EK Nayanar’s chief ministership, is at the receiving end now.
The main reason why this government has not been able to rise up to expectations is that it is not able to work with one mind. From the beginning, the CPI (M) and the CPI, the two main constituents of the front, were at loggerheads on many issues. While disputes arose and were settled, some schemes have disappeared. The food security scheme, about which there was a furore, is an example. The official version is that it is being implemented in some form or the other. However, it is already clear that it is not going the way it was expected to go and that it may not achieve the goals.
Even greater than the fight between the CPI (M) and the CPI is the fight within the CPI (M). What reflects in the line-up in which the Chief Minister is on one side and the Party Secretary’s loyal followers on the other is the sectarianism in the party. Clearly the claim that sectarianism ended with the Kottayam conference is not true.
The present government took office creating the impression that it is a continuation of the first EMS government. The biggest achievement of that government was land reform. Today we are conscious of the weaknesses of the decisions taken then. Those who were denied benefits at that time are clamouring for justice. When the Chief Minister took a personal interest in the attempt to reclaim the lands encroached upon by various groups, including political parties, the people viewed it as an attempt to rectify past mistakes and go forward. The court, recognizing the sincerity of purpose and will of the government, placed no obstacles in its way. But the political parties intervened and defeated it. Now the Chief Minister is engaged in a bid to revive and carry forward the aborted Munnar operation. For this effort to succeed, the party leadership must give up its enthusiasm to protect vested interests. There is nothing to indicate that it is ready to do so.
One after another, decisions are emerging from AKG Bhavan for rate revision. The ruling front meets and endorses them formally. After that, the rubber stamp in the Secretariat is put on them. In two and a half years, this government has increased electricity charges, water tax, milk prices and bus fares, some of them twice or thrice. When production costs go up, the consumer will have to pay more. But all the rate revisions of the recent past cannot be justified on this basis. Rate revision has become imperative because of mismanagement by the politicians and bureaucrats who are in charge of institutions. In the last budget, the Finance Minister provided Rs. 7 billion to rescue the State Road Transport Corporation. But no steps were taken to improve its working. The same thing is happening in the case of institutions like the Electricity Board and the Water Authority. The assistance the Cooperation Minister extended to debt-ridden cooperative institutions provided only temporary relief. It has worsened the financial position of some other cooperative institutions. All this has created a big pile of failures. While that remains, the government’s image will remain poor. The effect of the good work it has done will be lost.
These are matters which deserve the urgent attention of the Chief Minister and other ministers. Their decision to go to New Delhi for a Parliament March to protest against Central neglect, when there is enough work of this kind to be done here, is irresponsible. It is also an affront to the people who entrusted them with the responsibility for governance. Central neglect is a rotten old slogan which emits a bad odour. It was possible for the Left to find justification for such a slogan when one party monopolized power at the Centre and in most States. The Left leadership is actually proclaiming its intellectual and political bankruptcy when it levels this allegation against a government which it backed for two years.
As a political party which is now fully in opposition, the CPI (M) certainly has the right to agitate against the Central government and the parties that wield power at the Centre. It is the party which must lead that agitation, not the Cabinet. The Party Secretary had led a march from Kasergode to Thiruvananthapuram before the Assembly elections. Isn’t it appropriate for him to lead the Delhi programme, which is being staged with an eye to the Lok Sabha elections? If the party wants to raise the agitation to a higher level, let General Secretary Prakash Karat lead it.
Just as the State has complaints against the Centre, the panchayats may have complaints against the State. What the CPI (M) plans to do in New Delhi is no different from a demonstration which the opposition front may organize by bringing presidents and members of panchayats under their control to Thiruvananthapuram.
Based on article written for ‘Nerkkazhcha’ column of Kerala Kaumudi edition dated October 2, 2008