The Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo’s decision to suspend Kerala State Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and party state general secretary Pinarayi Vijayan from its highest decision-making body is aimed at sending a tough message to the state’s feuding party unit. Presumably, the two will retain their membership of the Central Committee of the party. Communist parties, at least those functioning in democratic environments, have a tendency towards factionalism and the problem has been particularly acute in the CPI(M), which itself broke away from the parent CPI in the 1960s.
The Left Democratic Front government, put together in 2006, was not just a coalition between the CPI(M) and its allies, but more important, a forced union of two powerful factions of the party. The result is a dysfunctional government where ministers of one faction are not on talking terms with those of the other group, even though they belong to the same party. In sharp contrast to their public image of unity and purpose, Communist parties around the world have been plagued by factionalism born out of a mixture of misplaced ideological zeal and the desire for power. The current crisis in Kerala came to a head last week with both senior leaders publicly trading threats and insults. Party general secretary Prakash Karat is from Kerala but he has worked primarily at the party headquarters in Delhi, and lacks the clout to lay down the law himself.
The battle-lines between the two Kerala leaders are drawn between the so-called hardliners led by Achuthanandan, and the so-called reformists loyal to Vijayan. The long-standing feud intensified after the chief minister took the lead in razing illegal constructions in the tourist hub of Munnar and threatened to carry on his campaign across the length and breadth of the state. The Pinarayi faction charged the chief minister with cornering credit for doing something that the state should have been doing anyway. Clearly, some powerful interests, not just ideologues, appear to have been hurt by the developments.