Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Literary academy chief in the garb of party commissar


As the sensation created by Kerala Sahitya Akademi Chairman M. Mukundan’s denigration of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan subsides, the sectarianism in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which was believed to have been laid to rest at the State party conference early this year, is raging furiously once again.

Mukundan’s dim view of Achuthanandan’s leadership had first found expression in a short story, which contained an allegoric reference to him as a dinosaur. It was written when the Chief Minister was pushing hard for removal of land encroachments in Munnar, facing opposition from his own party as well as the CPI.

This time he went one step further. In a magazine interview, he described Achuthanandan as “old-fashioned” and “an outdated saint”. He not sonly ridiculed Achuthanandan as an anachronism but also hailed State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan as the one who can lead Kerala to glory.

Mukundan is undoubtedly a major writer of his generation, but few will give him a high rating as a political thinker. Though not a CPI (M) member, Minister for Culture MA Baby picked him to head the official literary academy. Baby, a leading light of the Pinarayi camp, has been instrumental in drawing several writers and artistes, who were not even fellow-travellers, towards the party with a view to widening its base among men of arts and letters.

Some have uncharitably characterised Mukundan’s criticism of Achuthanandan and praise for Pinarayi Vijayan as a return favour. Since the Akademi post does not in any way curtail his personal freedoms, he is certainly entitled to express his opinion. However, he was being impetuous when he donned the garb of a commissar and pronounced on who should lead the party.

Mukundan merely echoed the views of KEN Kunhahammad, who has been the party’s de facto literary commissar since the late MN Vijayan was deposed after he criticised the party leadership’s line of seeking accommodation with the forces of globalization. In a widely discussed magazine article, he had accused Achuthanandan of being a political godman.

Achuthanandan’s initial response to Mukundan’s interview was one of good-humoured dismissal. People would have different views and they had the right to express them, he told media persons.

A few days later, in a written statement, he addressed the writer’s criticism directly. He acknowledged that as an 85-year-old he could be described as “old-fashioned”. Besides, the ideology that he upheld dated back to 1848. He added, “I am proud of it. I consider it is the ideology of the future too.”

He pointed out that even in the time of Karl Marx, the demons of capitalism had ridiculed Communists as old-fashioned. When Gorbachevism gained ground in the Soviet Union, there was widespread propaganda that history had ended and Communism had become outdated. With a touch of sarcasm, he added, “Even now some post-modernists are taking it up.”

Achuthanandan concluded with another ideological dig. He said it was capitalism’s chorus as well as hope that time would invalidate all values.
The carefully worded response made it clear that Achuthanandan considered Mukundan’s remarks not as personal views expressed casually in an interview but as a calculated attempt to boost the prospects of the party’s official leadership in the renewed sectarian warfare.

The thrust of Achuthanandan’s arguments were directed not against the writer but against Pinarayi Vijayan and his supporters, who, like the Chinese Communist leadership, favour the capitalist path of development.

The link between Mukundan's interview and the sectarianism in the CPI (M) became evident when Achuthanandan's supporters burnt the writer's effigy at a few places. The party leadership has reportedly ordered inquiry into these incidents. Evidently, it views a demonstration against Mukundan as an anti-party activity.

The controversy coincides with acts of revolt by party men at some places. The party recently dissolved a few local committees dominated by Achuthanandan supporters and set up ad hoc committees in their places. Some who have attracted disciplinary action have responded by setting up parallel committees. Such forms of protest have few parallels in the party’s history.

CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat had made decisive interventions before the last party congress to check sectarianism in the State unit. At one point, he had even got the Politburo to suspend both Achuthanandan and Vijayan from that high-powered body. The disciplinary measure was withdrawn when the Assembly elections approached.

Karat has so far maintained discreet silence on the renewed faction fight. With the Lok Sabha elections fast approaching, he does not have much room for manoeuvre. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 17, 2008.

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