Malappuram was painted in red like this 13 years ago. If it was the CPM's state conference then, it is the CPI’s this time. The focus of Kerala politics has shifted from Thrissur to Malappuram in a matter of a few days.
The CPI conference is being held when the ripples caused by CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran’s statement that the LDF doesn't need the support of KM Mani, when the Kerala Congress leader was sitting next to him, are yet to subside.
Not long before Kanam ended his speech, a senior leader at the CPI headquarters got a phone call. “I applaud your secretary for what he said." A CPM worker from Thiruvananthapuram was on the other side. Kanam has become someone who could win applause even from the CPM too. So, what’s his status within the CPI?
Manoeuvring in districts
An admirer says that Kanam can stake claim to the same amount of love and affection the then state secretary C K Chandrappan had enjoyed in the days leading to the Kollam state conference. That means, Kanam has strong support within the party too.
So, what does the turbulence in district meetings point to? There were contests in four district meetings. In Wayanad, in a retaliatory move to change the district secretary, who is a K E Ismail supporter, the other side threw out the man the official side had found for the post of the district secretary from the district council itself.
In Ernakulam, Ismail’s right-hand man P Raju, who is the district secretary, managed to scrape through in the voting to get into the district council. In Palakkad, two of the official faction’s candidates bit the dust. In Pathanamthitta, the official faction’s attempt to dislodge the district secretary through a voting came a cropper.
The CPI leaders describe these contests as internal democracy and say that there is no point in pinpointing factionalism in these fights.
But those who closely know K E Ismail, the ex-military man who loves 'taking revenge,' know well he is not going to agree. Kanam might be enjoying brutal support but Ismail thinks that being the senior-most among the prominent leaders, he has the right to lead the party at least once.
This prompted him to ask central leaders who requested him to make way for Kanam during the last conference in Kottayam, "Ain’t I qualified enough."
Has Ismail dropped his hopes of becoming the state secretary after backing out from the contest the last moment then?
It is likely that the Ismail faction will take full advantage of the factionalism that was seen in the district meetings. In the CPI, the district representatives' group chooses the members of the state council from the district. In the 89-member council, only 30 members are from the state quota. The Ismail faction will make sure that those who support them will be chosen for the council at the Malappuram conference.
But, the serious statements against Ismail in the conference report is a signal that their hopes won't materialise easily.
The leadership equations
The opposing side doesn't have an iota of hope that they can stop Kanam from retaining the state leadership post. But if they can manage to call the shots in the state council, it can affect the formation of the state executive committee. If the Ismail faction attempts such a move, it will have all the support of the CPM state leadership. The CPM is looking for a CPI leadership that won't say no to Mani.
Among the leaders, central secretariat member Kanam, Pannyan Raveendran and national executive committee member Binoy Viswam are together. Prakash Babu and Sathyan Mokeri are their lieutenants. Former assistant secretary C N Chandran is there to pull the strings for national executive council member Ismail. In the Cabinet, VS Sunil Kumar and K Raju stand for him.
So, what is the fate of C Divakaran who wanted to become the state secretary once? It is difficult to say if he is on either side. However, if Ismail can dislodge Kanam and hoist him in that slot, he will be more than willing to support the Ismail faction.
The factionalism in the CPM that shook Kerala politics happened at the state conference in Malappuram in 2005. When the VS faction introduced 12 members into the fray to reduce the majority of Pinarayi faction, it shook the party. All the 12 bit the dust; since then Pinarayi Vijayan has never turned back.