The red star credited with pitch-forking the Left back to power in Kerala is set to fade into the sunset.
Soon after the Left Democratic Front (LDF) scored an emphatic victory in the recently concluded state assembly elections, the central leadership bypassed 93-year-old VS Achuthanandan – said to be the main architect of the coalition’s victory – for chief ministership on account of his “poor health”.
Achuthanandan was told at the eleventh hour that the decision was taken because of his age, although that didn’t seem to be a problem when he was leading the LDF’s election campaign until a month ago.
Interestingly, only a week before the results came out, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury accorded a ‘red salute’ to the aged leader who had been crisscrossing the state with the vigor of an 18-year-old, and asked youth leaders to take a leaf out of his book. However, Yechury announced on Friday that Pinarayi Vijayan would be the new chief minister, and Achuthanandan would be “Kerala’s Fidel Castro” – hinting that he would be kept in an advisory position.
When Achuthanandan was asked to spearhead the election campaign a few months ago, he reportedly asked Yechury if he would support him if the state unit decided to sideline him after securing a victory. The party general secretary had replied in the positive.
However, the central leadership’s plan to win the West Bengal polls through an alliance with the Congress failed to materialise. A weak-kneed Yechury couldn’t stand up to the might of the Kerala unit, where Vijayan enjoyed overwhelming support, and eventually succumbed to their demand.
Going by Achuthanandan’s record, he is unlikely to suffer this ‘humiliation’ in silence. A statement made to the media that he would rather be seen as a “watchdog” means chief minister designate Vijayan – his arch-foe in the party for over two decades – might have to put up with the CPI(M) veteran breathing down his neck for the whole of his tenure.
“Till my last breath, I will continue to fight against corruption and communalism,” he said in a recent Facebook post.
The mood in the Achuthanandan camp is that of resentment. “People thronged in large numbers to hear him. The verdict was for VS. How can you ignore him after crossing the hurdle with his help?” asked a supporter.
Hectic efforts are on to placate Achuthanandan, the only surviving member of the 32-strong group that walked out of the Communist Party of India to form the CPI(M) in 1964. Worried over the mounting sympathy for the sidelined leader, the party leadership is keen to accommodate him in a key post – such as an advisor to the government with cabinet rank. Even his son has reportedly been offered a plum post, possibly as the chairman of a state PSU, to rein in his fury. But knowing how much Achuthanandan prizes his image and pride, he’s unlikely to take up any of the offers.
Fearing a tussle between Vijayan and Achuthanandan, the party did not project a chief ministerial candidate before the recent assembly elections. The strategy paid off and the LDF wrested power from the Congress, winning 91 seats in the 140-member house.