The CPI(M)'s Central Committee's (CC) recent meeting to put an end to the turf war in its Kerala unit can at best be referred to as a Pyrrhic victory. Of course, the committee publicly censoring its topmost leader, VS Achuthanandan, for his statements against the state party leadership may not have gone down well with the cadre. But when the entire state leadership was baying for VS's blood, a mere censure was clearly a slap in the face of the state chief, Pinarayi Vijayan, and his now much maligned 'Kannur Lobby'.
What prompted the central leadership to let VS off the hook is indeed his connect with the masses in Kerala. The veteran stood his ground at the CC meeting. In a lengthy address, he pinned down the state leadership mainly on one thing. The party's supposed - as believed by the Kerala public - involvement in the brutal murder of CPI(M) rebel and Marxist revolutionary leader TP Chandrashekhran on May 4. While the state leadership, led by Vijayan, has been contending that the party had nothing to do with the murder, investigations have revealed that no less than 70 people, mostly party higher-ups, and party sympathisers were involved in the ghastly killing.
Achuthanandan pointed out to the central leadership that as each day passes it is becoming clearer that the state leadership is finding it tough to wash its hands of the murder. The skeletons from the party cupboards are tumbling out one by one and two-decade-old murder cases, where the party was involved, are being reopened.
Those who were accused of plotting TP's murder had gone underground for more than a month. Even two months after TP was slain, Vijayan and company swear that the party had no hand in his murder. But facts suggest otherwise. The special investigation team (SIT), which was set up to probe the murder, has taken into custody no less than 20 party workers. They include local committee members, area secretaries and even district secretariat members. The party's all-India general secretary and the state secretary continuing to insist that the CPI(M) is not involved in the murder is seen as a cruel joke by the public. It is obvious that the party leadership has lost touch with the grassroots and is living in a self-woven cocoon.
Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that more than half the leaders surrendered at different courts only when the party directed them to do so? The former state home minister and CPI(M) politburo member, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, even went on record to say that if the party wanted to hide someone, the police, why even the Indian Army, would not be able to trace them. This was open defiance of the state and the police booked him for that public statement.
VS, at the CC meeting, repeatedly hinted that the party was involved in TP's murder and said that people need not believe what the party secretary says. The more the official leadership tried to alienate him, the more VS hit back with incisive digs at the official leadership from time to time "This is the biggest threat the party is facing in the state right now," VS told the committee.
The Left leaders of two party strongholds, Kozhikode and Kannur, are behind bars for their alleged involvement in the murder. But the top leadership of the party in the state has emerged unscathed. Would comrades from Kozhikode and Kannur have taken such a key decision to eliminate TP without the permission of the state leadership? There lies the catch, said VS. As per reports VS was at his vituperative best at the committee meeting. He said that instead of the party promoting working class interests, it is now in the hands of big businessmen and Mafiosi of different class interests.
Though Vijayan, a politburo member, was not supposed to speak at the committee meeting, he was allowed to do so and he laid out an array of allegations against VS. He claimed that VS was solely responsible for the ideological confusion in the party and, hence, should be stripped of all his elected posts in the party. It is interesting to note that Vijayan did not dwell much on ideology, but harped on personal vendetta.
Whatever Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and the available politburo think in Delhi, it is clear that the Kerala CPI(M) is heading for a North-South showdown. It will be based on ideology versus personality cult. VS Achuthanandan standing for old communist beliefs while Pinarayi Vijayan making the party into a corporate outfit.
Santosh Kumar is a senior journalist
The views expressed by the author are personal