Column | UAPA to data security, CPM-led government in Kerala doesn’t walk party talk

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Two items in CPM’s manifesto for the last Lok Sabha election had hogged national limelight. The party wanted to add healthcare as a Fundamental Right in the Constitution. It also became the only party in India to argue for digital privacy by promising strict legislation to ensure data security.

The unique agendas and a reputation as a corrective force helped the CPM keep a foothold in the country. Yet the party is facing criticism that it is compromising on its platforms in the only state where it is in power. The party had launched agitations against the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, yet the government it leads in Kerala allowed the slapping of the act on two of its own party members in Kozhikode.

The CPM’s central committee meeting held in Thiruvananthapuram in January was noted for a resolution which rejected the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Kerala government soon issued an order that conformed to the party stand that the people were not obliged to answer the questions related to the National Population Register.

The Pinarayi Vijayan government was quick to flag the questionnaire prepared by the central government as dangerous. Ironically the government was caught in the wrong foot by another set of questions intended to trace the spread of COVID-19. Detractors alleged that the party has forsaken its own poll promises by signing a deal with Sprinklr Inc.

Lip service

The Sprinklr deal has undermined many a slogan raised by the CPM. The politburo passed a resolution in December 2013 to demand that the central government cancel an Aadhaar-related deal signed with an American company with apparent connections to the CIA. A member of the politburo, Pinarayi Vijayan, has led his government to sign a contract with a company which is said to have helped Donald Trump in his election campaign.

The politburo which alleged that UK-based Cambridge Analytica had stolen data from Facebook and WhatsApp users in India in 2018, is facing similar charges from the Congress-led opposition in Kerala. The politburo, on November 2, 2019, was vocal in criticising data theft of 1,400 prominent persons by the Israeli spy agency. The party asked for a criminal investigation into the data leak of 40 Indians on the list. The Kerala government is in a fix now as the opposition asks for a CBI probe into an alleged data leak of health info of 1.5 lakh people.

The CPM has weakened its own arguments against the UAPA and data theft in Kerala. The volte face of CPM spokespersons, who had earlier taken a solid stand against American imperialism, private capital and foreign monopolies, has alarmed their rivals in the Congress and the BJP.

Who dares?

Why is the SNC-Lavalin deal still a talking point in Kerala? The same allegation, that the government entered into a contract with a private company without inviting tenders, is raised in the case of Sprinklr. The chief minister’s office has increasingly been dominated by bureaucrats since M V Jayarajan quit as a private secretary to take up an assignment as the party’s district secretary in Kannur. The office is missing the experienced of a seasoned political leader.

The chief minister elevated information technology department secretary M Sivasankar as a private secretary in his office. That dual position perhaps made the secretary so confident that he did not think it necessary to consult the law department before entering into a deal with a foreign company. That decision has backfired.

When the then chief minister V S Achuthanandan objected to a deal with the Asian Development Bank, the party central committee assumed the role of a corrective agent and asked the party, the Left Democratic Front and the cabinet to revisit the deal. At a time when the party is going slow on internal debates, the political losses it suffered cannot be countered by the claim that extraordinary situations demand extraordinary solutions.

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