Monday, December 15, 2008

Kerala CPI-M factions appear set for fight to finish


SECTARIANISM in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which subsided after secretary Pinarayi Vijayan tightened his grip over its state unit this year, is in full cry again.

This time, the leadership appears to be ready for a fight to the finish.

The state party has been faction-ridden for years.

At one stage, in a bid to check sectarianism, the central leadership suspended both Vijayan and VS Achuthanandan from the Politburo.

The suspension was withdrawn before the Assembly elections.

The sectarian strife is essentially a power struggle.

Before the poll there was a build-up in Vijayan's favour. He led a march from Kasergode to Thiruvananthapuram, and all along the route, party units organised breakfast meetings for him to interact with social and business leaders.

Some interest groups presented to him memoranda outlining what they expected the CPI-M-led government to do for them.

Simultaneously there was a move to keep Achuthanandan away from the election scene.

Pinarayi loyalists branded him as "anti-development" and argued that the party would lose if he led the election campaign.

The Politburo's decision that both Achuthanandan and Vijayan should stay out of contests dashed the former's chief ministerial hopes and left the door open for Vijayan or his nominee to head the government after the elections.

Achuthanandan's supporters revolted, forcing the Politburo to allow him to contest.

After the Left Democratic Front's sweeping victory, the party could not deny Achuthanandan the chief minister's post.

The state party leadership, therefore, tried to clip his wings.

It expelled KM Shahjehan, who, as additional private secretary to the leader of the opposition, was believed to have helped him to build a populist image.

It denied Achuthanandan elbow room by packing the cabinet with Pinarayi followers.

However, strife continued. Each side resorted to covert methods to defeat the other's moves. Thus, when the chief minister stood in the way of a loan agreement with the Asian Development Bank, in which the party leadership was interested, the Local Self-government minister sent an official to New Delhi without his knowledge to sign the deal.

The chief minister and the party secretary found themselves on opposite sides when the state government began eviction of encroachers in the hill resort of Munnar.

The infighting was so intense that many believed Achuthanandan would be forced out after the state party conference.

Although Pinarayi Vijayan emerged stronger from the party conference, the central leadership made it clear that it wanted Achuthanandan to continue as chief minister.

For a while, it looked as though factionalism had ended.

Last week's developments suggest that the two sides have begun an open clash which can only end with the loser's unceremonious ouster in typical Communist fashion.

The opening shots were fired by the chief minister's private secretary, S. Rajendran, and political secretary, KN Balagopal, who reportedly told the state committee that Achuthanandan was acting on the advice of a clique of outsiders.

They identified K. Suresh Kumar, an IAS officer, whom the chief minister had handpicked to head the Munnar operations, as a member of the clique.

Suresh Kumar, who was attached to the chief minister's office at one time, hit back with an accusation that Rajendran and Balagopal had blocked action on some important files, including that relating to the Kiliroor sex scandal in which Achuthanandan had taken keen interest as opposition leader.

The party immediately demanded action against Suresh Kumar for violating conduct rules of government officials.

At the chief minister's instance, the chief secretary called for an explanation from him.

Later the cabinet decided to suspend him without waiting for his explanation. There is more in the renewed outbreak of sectarianism than meets the eye.

There was a veneer of ideological differences in the exchanges between the two sides on issues like the ADB loan.

Personal elements vitiate the latest exchanges.

There have been insinuations that the sons of two ministers belonging to the Pinarayi faction are involved in the Kiliroor case, to which Suresh Kumar alluded CPI-M legislature party secretary P. Jayarajan accused Suresh Kumar of visiting New Delhi to contact officers investigating the Lavalin case.

One issue involved in the case, which the High Court has entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation, is Pinarayi Vijayan's role in the award of a contract to the Canadian firm SNC Lavalin when he was electricity minister.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 15, 2008

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