In a way, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury's intervention has saved Pinarayi Vijayan's 'renaissance alliance' from developing cracks.
One of the strongest pillars of the wall, Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS), suffered a major ideological embarrassment when chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan not only welcomed Narendra Modi's surprise announcement of 10 per cent reservation for the poor among the forward communities but also claimed credit for having already implemented it. KPMS sees economic reservation as an upper caste ruse to wipe out the gains of reservation.
But by calling Modi's announcement “an electoral ploy to stoke caste passions along with communal polarisation”, Yechury seems to have made up for chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's near enthusiastic response to it. Yechury's response was tactical. He did not differ widely from Pinarayi Vijayan. He questioned Modi's intent but did not rubbish the policy.
Officially, economic reservation is a measure the CPM backs. This could be why Pinarayi Vijayan was caught off guard when Modi made the sudden announcement. “This is a welcome move, and is something we have been saying for quite some time,” the chief minister said on January 7. “In fact, we are already giving economic reservation,” he added, referring to the LDF government policy of introducing 10 per cent reservation for upper caste poor in Devaswom jobs.
What the chief minister left unsaid was that the government has not been able to implement economic reservation in devaswoms even a year after the policy was announced. The KPMS was the harshest critic of the LDF move and had then threatened to go to court against it.
Given this friction, the chief minister's warm response to Modi's move could have irritated old wounds. But Yechury stepped in just in time. “We are satisfied with what the CPM general secretary had to say about Modi's economic reservation,” said Punnala Sreekumar, KPMS leader and the man Pinarayi had chosen as the convenor of the 'Women's Wall'. “Reservation is a mechanism to right the historical wrongs done to socially marginalised groups, not a job-guaranteeing measure,” Sreekumar said.
The KPMS leader offered this definition as a chastisement of the CPM, too. He knows that the party favours economic reservation. “They introduced economic reservation for devaswom jobs overruling the objection of their law secretary,” he said. “But have they been able to implement it? That is why we had not gone to court though we had said we would do so,” he added.
Punnala Sreekuamr also knows the importance of setting priorities. He knows that economic reservation is not an immediate threat. “Modi's announcement is just a pipe dream. It will not pass the Parliament test. Even if it does, the courts will strike it down,” he said. But the renaissance values the 'Women's Wall' sought to uphold need to be taken further. “Why should we destroy a unity forged on the basis of profound principles of justice and empowerment in the name of some imaginary threat,” he said.