‘The party will decide’ is the CPI(M)’s stock reply when confronted with uncomfortable questions. But its powerful Kerala unit chief Pinarayi Vijayan is not one for the collective decision-making approach that the party is so fond of. His approach has always been ‘my way or the highway’. For so long has the pugnacious Vijayan got his own way in Kerala that it would appear that he never expected that he would be caught short in the controversial Lavalin case despite having escaped prosecution earlier. For Vijayan who prides himself on his unique and somewhat brutal style of party management, the CBI prosecution in a corruption case is a severe blow but one in which he will try to bluster his way through.
The CPI(M) may claim that individuals don’t matter as much as the party, but Vijayan’s confrontational style has caused enormous damage to the state unit. His long-standing feud with chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan has virtually split the party into two in the state with the party supremo Prakash Karat weighing in on Vijayan’s side. If Vijayan’s involvement in the Lavalin power scam has cost the state’s exchequer crores of rupees, his political acumen, or lack of it, has directly contributed to the drubbing the party has got this election.
Like Karat, Vijayan is not what one would call a reasonable man. Despite well-meaning advice from those within the party, Vijayan committed political hara-kiri by throwing in his lot with blatantly communal outfits like Abdul Naseer Madani’s People’s Democratic Party in the Lok Sabha elections. Madani himself must have been astounded at the paeans of praise heaped on him at public meetings by Vijayan.
Madani’s USP has been his espousal of anti-nationalism, something Vijayan sought to gloss over ineffectively. The state’s Muslims had made it clear at the outset that they would have nothing to do with Madani and his hysterical brand of politics but Vijayan stuck to his guns and the party paid the price.
Not one to be humble in defeat, Vijayan refused to introspect blaming various elements for the party’s disastrous showing. The result of the infighting with Achuthanandan has been that the party lies in tatters today. In many ways, Karat and Vijayan could have been separated at birth. Ego has come in the way of the greater good of the party with both pushing things to a point of no return. Poor governance and unseemly bickering have turned people off the party. Its supporters also see that power at the Centre has slipped away from the party, thanks to Karat’s obduracy.
Vijayan’s brand of agitational politics has run its course. His supporters are out on the streets following the decision to prosecute him, but the CBI is not exactly quaking in its boots. Tired men and their tired ideologies have lost their charm for people in the state, especially the young. The CPI(M), which has its finger in every pie from television to luxury resorts, is no longer seen as a model of propriety and rectitude. It is as venal and corrupt as the next party and inept to boot.
For the party, it really has been a mighty fall. The party, once led by giants like E.M.S. Namboodiripad and which has produced some of India’s greatest Marxist thinkers, is today hoping that bullying tactics will get its beleaguered state unit chief off the hook. Parties like the BJP that have fared badly in the recent polls have at least begun talking about the need to reform and reinvent themselves. The CPI(M) seems singularly unconcerned about how quickly the ground slipped away from underneath its feet.
As the party digs itself deeper into a hole, with its leaders refusing to take the blame for this sorry state of affairs, it is consigning itself to greater irrelevance. And today, there are very few good men left to come to the aid of the party.