With faction leaders in Kerala fighting like Kilkenny cats, the Politburo of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which meets in New Delhi this weekend, faces the severest test in its history.
The main item on its agenda is the Lavalin case, which relates to alleged corruption in a deal the State Electricity Board struck with the Canadian company SNC Lavalin when Pinarayi Vijayan was Electricity Minister. The Central Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the case, has named Vijayan, who is now the party's state secretary, as one of the accused.
This is the first time that a CPI-M Politburo member has figured in a corruption case.
The CBI decision to indict him came as he was preparing to lead a New Kerala march through the state's 140 Assembly constituencies to galvanise the party in advance of the Lok Sabha elections, expected in April.
As soon as the news broke, State Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who is also a member of the Politburo, charged the Central agency with implicating Vijayan in the case as reprisal for withdrawal of party support to the central government.
The next day the party's state committee adopted a resolution alleging the move to prosecute the party secretary was politically motivated. The central leadership quickly endorsed the charge.
Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who is the seniormost Politburo member from the state, flew to New Delhi apparently to make known to the national leadership his reservation in the matter.
As other party leaders railed against the CBI, Achuthanandan maintained silence, inviting criticism from the opposition and taunts from his own colleagues. When he broke his silence, he distanced himself from the party line and asserted he would only act in a manner consistent with the constitutional position that he holds.
Both Vijayan and Achuthanandan have made public statements which suggest that sectarianism in the party has reached the breaking point.
When Achuthanandan said he would not join the New Kerala march, Vijayan retorted, "All those who are in the party are in the march".
"A communist cannot be corrupt," Achuthanandan said later, clearly indicating that he wants Pinarayi Vijayan to get his name cleared to be counted as a communist.
The state party leadership believes Achuthanandan has violated party discipline by not accepting the Politburo's stand that the charge against Vijayan is politically motivated. It has sent a complaint to this effect to the central leadership.
Achuthanandan apparently holds the view that the Politburo has not taken a final position in the matter. The party's current position is based on consultations among available Politburo members. He wants a formal decision by the Politburo.
In a bid to distance the central leadership from the sectarian noises emanating from Kerala, general secretary Prakash Karat said on Saturday that the Politburo meeting, scheduled for Februart 14, has not been convened to consider any complaint. The Politburo was meeting since an issue concerning one of its members has arisen, he explained.
On a superficial view, the entire state party leadership stands behind Vijayan, and Achuthanandan is virtually isolated. However, a careful scrutiny of public statements by party leaders will reveal that not all of them are backing Vijayan with equal enthusiasm.
At one end are overzealous leaders who go so far as to suggest that Pinarayi Vijayan is the party, echoing the Emergency slogan "Indira is India". At the other end are circumspect leaders who say just enough to be counted among those who have endorsed the position taken by the leadership.
According to media reports, Achuthanandan wants Pinarayi Vijayan to be replaced as state secretary. This is not a demand that the central leadership can easily accept. With more than 336,000 members, the Kerala party is the largest unit, accounting for about 35 per cent of the CPI-M's countrywide membership. It is also a major source of funds for the party.
In last year's organisational elections, Pinarayi Vijayan tightened his grip on the party. His supporters now control party units and affiuliates at all levels. At the same time, Achuthanandan commands considerable goodwill at the grassroots level within the party and outside it.
The central leadership will have to summon all the tactical skills at its command to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of both the leaders. -- Gulf Today, February 9, 2009.