File image of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) is in a quandary. On the one hand, the party is compelled to defend its only surviving government led by Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, and, on the other, the ripple effects of the gold-smuggling case raises fundamental questions about the inherent ‘Left character’ of its government.
However, the turn of events aren’t entirely unexpected to a lot of people — many CPI(M) sympathisers among them — who have been resentful of the party’s “Right-wing deviancy” (to quote former Kerala CM EMS Namboodiripad), of late. They could see it coming.
Whether it is the centralisation of power rendering the powerful position of state secretary redundant, or in the appointment of a host of ‘advisers’ having the Chief Minister’s ear, or playing by the bourgeois playbook, the Vijayan government has been a complete antithesis of the previous Left dispensations in Kerala.
One must recall here that even EK Nayanar and VS Achuthanandan had led Left governments in Kerala in a globalised era, but never deviated from the core party principles. Vijayan embarked an alternate path, perhaps guided by the revisionist ideals of his mentor and Kannur strongman MV Raghavan, who was expelled from CPI(M) in 1986.
While the clout of the ‘Kannur Lobby’ in the Kerala unit of the CPI(M) was previously balanced by the steady presence of EMS and other strong leaders such as trade unionist E Balanandan, Achuthanandan and KR Gowri, the party is now dominated by this cabal.
Today, the CPI(M) in Kerala is beholden to Vijayan, with key organisational and ministerial positions being vested with his minions. In fact, the CPI(M)’s once-powerful state secretariat, which used to course-correct the party in previous Left dispensations, has now been reduced to a rubber stamp. The checks and balances that existed earlier have now been obliterated, with even the state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan acting as a yes-man to the commissar.
If one were to compare the Vijayan dispensation to the Achuthanandan government (2006-2011), the differences would be stark. Achuthanandan was hemmed in by the home ministry (and by extension, the state intelligence wing) being taken away from him and his government audited regularly by the party through multiple forums.
By comparison, the Vijayan dispensation is controlled by bureaucrats and ‘advisers’ of Vijayan and, there is scant oversight of the party into the affairs of the government. This has culminated in policy-making and executive decisions getting dominated by a neo-liberal (read, crony-capitalist) agenda. In fact, in attempting to shed some of the ‘anti-development’ baggage of the Achuthanandan government, Vijayan has emerged as more bourgeois than the average bourgeois.
If at all Vijayan can be compared to any previous Chief Minister, it has to be with K Karunakaran, who is still reviled by the communists on account of the emergency excesses he perpetrated as Home Minister. Vijayan’s tenure as home minister has been no less controversial in the past four years, with many excesses and alleged extra-judicial killings raising the hackles of the civil society and the traditional Left base. The warnings posed by such excesses went unheeded and the centralisation of power and creeping authoritarianism has now come home to roost.
The gold-smuggling controversy, with the Chief Minister’s former Principal Secretary M Sivasankar in the dock, has come as the latest wake-up call for the CPI(M). Unfortunately, there is practically none left in the party today to speak up — almost reminding one of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led Left Front government’s trajectory post-Nandigram.
The neo-liberal excesses of the Vijayan government also extend to a ‘consultancy raj’, whereby multinationals and even fly-by-night operators are handed plum assignments as consultancy projects, ostensibly on account of the government’s ‘lack of expertise’. That many such projects have been handed out without following due procedure only makes it worse.
While the entire fallout of the gold-smuggling case remains to be seen, it is clear that the party is in no mood to rein in Vijayan. That even the central leadership of the party is financially dependent on the Kerala unit even for its day-to-day functioning might explain the reluctance of the CPI(M) in taking cognisance of the serious nature of allegations against the office of the Kerala Chief Minister. In the meantime, the cult of personality and its consequences are for the people of Kerala to bear. Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator. Views are personal.