CPI leaders’ outburst against chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s style of functioning at a recent party forum in Alappuzha was the manifestation of pent-up emotions. The party had been nursing a grouse against its bigger ally for so long that its state secretary had made an agreement with the chief minister to make themselves heard.
CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran is expected to meet Vijayan once in two weeks to present his party’s views on matters of governance. This is no ordinary exchange of pleasantries. This marks a paradigm shift in the way the Left Democratic Front operates while in power.
Any exchange between the communist parties are supposed to be routed through their secretaries. Now, the CPI secretary will go to the chief minister twice a month on the eve of the cabinet meetings. Rajendran may also meet his counterpart in the CPM if the meeting is held in the AKG Center.
What the CPI really wants, however, is a forum to get it consulted in matters of governance. Rajendran and party colleague Panniyan Raveendran has made a pact with the chief minister at the Cliff House to meet twice a month.
Where does this deal place CPI’s ministers? The party’s four ministers are unable to further the party’s interests in the cabinet meeting. They are no match to the all-powerful chief minister. The CPI state secretary is forced to take on the responsibility to guard the party’s position as the second largest unit in the ruling coalition.
The deal also marks a shift in the Left perspective that the government is a tool of the party and the party is the source of the government’s strength. The CPM parliamentary party, read Pinarayi Vijayan, is leading the CPM in Kerala. This is no different from the functioning of the Congress and the United Democratic Front.
Brothers in arms
CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is the undisputed leader of the Left Democratic Front, but next only to his predecessor Vijayan. He is not a secretary who wants to keep the government on a tight leash. He knows better. The chief minister wields considerable clout within the party. After all, he was the party secretary for about 15 years.
Vijayan did not blink in showing the door to industries minister E P Jayarajan. Balakrishnan made things easier for the chief minister. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury also wanted the tainted minister out.
Despite all this equations, the outcome of the embarrassing episode would have been different had Vijayan bought the initial arguments that Jayarajan’s folly was just a mistake from a greenhorn administrator.
Compare Vijayan’s tenure as chief minister to that of V.S. Achuthanandan. As party state secretary, Vijayan controlled all party ministers except the chief minister. His attempts to extend his influence to the chief minister’s Office led to an ugly spat within the party.
The present secretary, Balakrishnan, sees Vijayan as an elder brother. Their collaboration goes back to their student days. They fought side by side in ousting rivals in the party starting the Malappuram conference.
Observers may think that the party secretary may not be comfortable with the unprecedented influence of the government and the parliamentary party over the party but even they scoff at the idea of Balakrishnan doing anything about it.
Other leaders such as M.A. Baby, who found himself isolated after his comment that the Kerala Congress was finished, and T.M. Thomas Isaac, who has limited his public statements to that of his finance department and administration, are watching the developments carefully. They are not in a mood to revive the dying factionalism within the party.
The opposition Congress and the United Democratic Front are following the same pattern. The Congress has given way to the parliamentary party unit to lead its agitation against the government’s deal with the self-financing college managements. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala is focusing on energizing the parliamentary party rather than wait for the party to recover from its shameful defeat at the hustings.
The KPCC president has no role to play in parliamentary party meetings. Though party president V.M. Sudheeran is adept at bringing new issues to the fore and keeping them in circulation, his role is limited when it comes to raise the questions in the Legislative Assembly.
Chennithala has taken the lead in bringing together Sudheeran and former chief minister Oommen Chandy. The Opposition Leader also jumped in to oppose the Athirappally hydel power project because he wanted to preempt Sudheeran.
This does not mean that everything is hunky-dory in the United Democratic Front camp. Congress leaders who are locked in a no-holds-barred battle against the chief minister and the government are watching with concern their ally P.K. Kunhalikutty’s hesitation to burn the bridges. The Muslim League’s perceived soft corner to the CPM is a cause of concern to the other parties in the UDF.