In a report presented before the delegates of the CPM district convention in Thrissur ahead of the 22nd party congress, party district secretary K Radhakrishnan pointed out: “The Left Democratic Front has grown to be the primary political force in the district and the CPM has become the largest political party. The party’s membership has risen to 40,289.”
The party’s district conventions were kicked off in Thrissur. The ensuing conventions are sure to have similar claims about party membership. This is one of the major changes to the party since the Alappuzha conference three years ago. The CPM has added about 60,000 members.
This is a record in the history of the CPM. The party’s Kerala unit has become the largest in the country with 4,62,000 members.
The number of party branches have gone up correspondingly. The party has added about 7,000 new branches to take the total number to 31,700.
The sudden spike is a bit strange since the CPM’s membership campaign is different from the other parties. No one can be a member of the party by just ringing a phone number.
An aspiring comrade has to work as a candidate member and prove his loyalty and commitment to the party before he could join the party.
Is the swelling cadre any indication that the party has relaxed the rigorous recruitment regimen? Can anyone become a party member these days? Party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan says no.
“We have not compromised on our process. We keep throwing out members who do nothing for the party even as we add new members. The change you see now is because of the addition of more students, youngsters and women.”
The CPM has been directly recruiting firebrand student leaders who work with its feeder organization, the SFI. The party is working towards a goal of filling at least 25 percent of its cadre with women. All these could change the very structure and nature of the party.
Members with a certain nostalgia for the revolutionary battles in the teething years of the party have turned a minority. The party may be drifting away from its core base of the proletariat. The CPM is on its way to gain the confidence of the middle class.
The CPM is hardly bothered about the threats from factional feuds. The party has earned its lessons after a bitter feud between senior leaders V S Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan, much like how the Congress bucked up after the spat between A K Antony and K Karunakaran that even led to a short-lived but damaging split in the party.
The CPM, however, has reasons to worry about the increasing trend of careerism and opportunism among its leaders and cadres. The state committee even rapped senior leader P Jayarajan for projecting him as a hero.
Though the disciplinary action against Jayarajan made it into the news columns, not every such incident is made public, a state secretariat member said. One such instance was reported from Nedumkandam, where party leaders were shocked to see a district committee member bringing out a short film on himself ahead of an area committee election.
Comrades in Nedumkandam were recently in the news for putting up a flex board of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in violation of the party leadership’s guidelines.
The party has successfully exorcised the demons of factionalism and the media is no longer watching the party elections with hawk’s eyes. Yet an area committee report was blurted out through a microphone in Alappuzha!
The people were surprised to listen to the unintended airing of the report, closely followed by angry remarks from party district secretary Saji Cherian who thought the report was a shoddy job.
Public works minister G Sudhakaran even refused to attend an area committee meeting in his home constituency of Ambalappuzha. The party witnessed fierce fights for the control of the area committees in Puthuppalli and Pala, where the reigning area secretaries were defeated. The area secretary in Puthuppalli could not even make it to the new area committee, much to the chagrin of the district committee.
The Achuthanandan camp once claimed the district committees of Ernakulam, Alappuzha and Kollam but the dominant faction has since tightened its grip on these districts. Pinarayi, Kodiyeri and the other leaders have used every trick to keep the party loyal to them.
Some of the party leaders had no other way but to quit in the face of the cleanup drive. Such exiles even formed CPI’s first local committee unit in Mannur near Ottappalam.
The CPM is changing indeed and it has to face the challenges of the changing times. The party is no longer the water-tight entity it used to be, making it easier for members to walk out and for new joinees to walk in, though a murder at Onchiyam still lingers in public memory.