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Last Updated Wednesday November 22 2017 04:33 AM IST

Kerala vs Bengal: CPM’s Congress dilemma

Sujith Nair
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cpm-flag The left is consumed in an dilemma: Representational image

The CPM cadre is busy with local committee conventions in the nook and cranny of the state. The leaders are drumming up support from the grass-roots in the run-up to the party congress in Hyderabad in April.

If the party congress is the ultimate word in the CPM, the state committee rules the roost in the three years between the congresses. The sole powerful committee is a divided house now.

The party’s national leadership cannot agree on a crucial question - whether or not to have an understanding with the Congress, the main opposition party. While the Bengal unit wants to go along with the Congress, the Kerala unit refuses to play ball.

Even as the central committee debated over the party’s strategy, the Congress won the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha byelection. The news made front-page news in ‘Deshabhimani, the CPM organ in Kerala. The daily was relieved that the Congress tally in Parliament just went up to 46.

The daily followed up the next day by printing an article by Rajdeep Sardesai, who warned of a potential BJP advance in Kerala at the expense of the Congress.

The party organ is not free from the confusion reigning at all levels in the party.

Why Bengal?

While chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s party swept the elections to seven local self-government bodies in August, the CPM drew a blank. The only left party to make its presence known was Forward Bloc, which happens to be a Congress ally in Kerala. The left has been decimated in their former bastion.

The party needs support even to carry out its political campaigns in the state. That is the rationale for the comrades from Bengal to lobby for an alliance with the Congress. Party general secretary Sitaram Yechury has always been sympathetic to the demand, prompting Kerala leaders to secretly mock him as a politburo member from Bengal.

While all these happened, the CPM in Kerala has been resisting an unprecedented onslaught by the Union government and the BJP. The BJP launched a road show in Kerala and pointed fingers at its opponent at the national level by raking up the political violence in Kannur.

The tirade actually backfired and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed confidence that even groups inimical to the CPM would stand by it in the fight against the Sangh Parivar. The trend was evident, with even former general secretary Prakash Karat seemingly backing down from his earlier statement that the BJP was not a fascist party.

Lone voices in Kerala

Still Karat and the Kerala unit stand firm in their opposition to sharing a common platform with the Congress, even if the partnership is against the BJP. Kerala leaders were not surprised when veteran V S Achuthanandan offered his support to Yechury’s line of thinking. Finance minister T M Thomas Isaac strengthened the marginalized opinion from Kerala.

Isaac stood by his stand in the state secretariat and the central committee. Was he trying to project himself as a successor to Achuthanandan, a leader from south Kerala who could counterbalance the powerful Kannur lobby in the party?

The differences are hardly an issue in the ongoing local committee conventions. The Kerala unit has just recovered from a long feud between two dominant factions. The rift seems to have shifted to the central leadership.

The Karat faction can claim the support of 10 politburo members while the Yechury group is only six. An attempt to arrive at a consensus on the possible alliance with Congress failed when the politburo met earlier this month. The political difference may have their origin in personal differences.

The strange truck

The Narendra Modi government at the center was only 11 months old when the CPM party congress was held at Vishakhapatnam. The party forum was determined to fight the NDA’s economic policies and Hindutva advances. The party views the undoing of the BJP as its prime responsibility.

The CPM knows well that the task could not be achieved in isolation. The left group needs support from Congress and other parties to fight the NDA. Still the Kerala unit of the party has not warmed to the idea of forming an alliance with Congress.

Ironically, the party unit has never hesitated in forming an alliance with P J Joseph’s Kerala Congress. Sharad Pawar’s NCP is a left ally in Kerala. The CPM could even ally with K M Mani’s Kerala Congress even as it keeps Congress at a distance.

Read more in Onmanorama exclusive columns

The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of Malayala Manorama. Legal action under the IT Act will be taken against those making derogatory and obscene statements.

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