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Clash of the red brigade

Clash of the red brigade

Author: M.G. Radhakrishnan
Publication: India Today
Date: March 3, 2008
URL: http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&Itemid=1&task=view&id=4858&sectionid=21&issueid=42&latn=2

Introduction: Fisticuffs at the state meet show the punishment meted out to Achuthanandan and Vijayan has had little effect of the cadres

A meeting of the state committee of the CPI(M) normally is as electrifying as Sunday morning mass at the nearby parish. However, it was a different sight last week when thousands of flag-holding workers converged for a mammoth public rally to mark the end of the four-day Kerala state conference at the rain-drenched Nehru Stadium in Kottayam-a prelude to the 19th party congress in March at Coimbatore.

A section of the audience cheered, danced and vociferously shouted "VS Zindabad" as Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan got up to address the meeting. As the light drizzle turned into a thunder shower, the comrades rolled up their lungis and let their hair down, boogieing the evening away.

In the melee, a few bottles were thrown onto the dais by tipsy comrades. In the iron-fisted Marxist establishment, this was blasphemy.

No sooner had Achuthanandan ended his speech, the newly re-elected state Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan rushed to the stage, seething with rage.

"Is this a communist rally or an Usha Uthup rock show that you dance and revel like this?" said Vijayan and told the volunteers to rein in the bad hats. Uthup later took exception to the remark forcing Vijayan to clarify that he meant no offence. As the army of red volunteers began thrashing the unruly comrades, a free for all had ensued, forcing the cancellation of the rally.

Never in its 44-yearold history has CPI(M) witnessed anything as unruly as this. The VS loyalists were evidently proving a point: "even though our leader is marginalised in the party, we the common ranks are with him".

The state conference had expectedly reaffirmed the official camp's dominance of the organisation against Achuthanandan's minority faction. Vijayan, 64, was re-elected-for the fourth time in a row-unanimously as the state secretary by the 500-odd delegates.

An 85-member state committee was also elected, unanimously, in which too the official camp retained its massive majority. Among the 11 new faces inducted into the committee, just one belonged to the VS camp. All the proceedings were conducted under the close supervision of five Politburo members including Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury so that the factional war did not come to the fore.

"The cancer of factionalism affecting the party for more than a decade will come to an end with this meeting," said Vijayan. Karat warned with dire consequences if factionalism resurfaced in any form.

It was clear that the 84-year-old chief minister would come for some heavy treatment at the conference for the vast majority of the 500-odd delegates, who came from the districts, belonged to the chief minister's rival camp. Achuthanandan's rivals had established clear majority in the party district committees by winning 11 of the 14 districts at conferences held in the past few months.

Most of the delegates blasted Achuthanandan-the only surviving founder member of CPI(M) in Kerala-for various lapses. The organisational report, adopted finally by the state conference, was conspicuous for the barbs against the chief minister.

Though the report lauded his role in the party's victory in the last Assembly polls, it criticised him saying that as chief minister he had failed to defend his cabinet colleagues-mostly from the rival camp-when they faced allegations from the Opposition.

"Though the Government had some flaws, they got magnified because the chief minister failed to put up a good defence and acted as a power unto himself," says a leader. To "bring the chief minister in line" with the party, it was decided that a set of guidelines would be formulated for better conduct of the 20-month-old Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government.

"I accept all the criticism. I promise to correct all mistakes and go forward," said the beleaguered chief minister later at the rally. Though Achuthanandan was chastised and tamed at the conference, a complete decimation of his camp was averted thanks to the presence of the Politburo members. None from the VS camp, who was in the previous state committee, was excluded from the new committee.

It is clear that the factional war in CPI(M) has been behind many goof-ups of the Government. Various infrastructure development projects in the state are stuck because a pro-reform Vijayan camp and the orthodox chief minister could not reach a consensus on availing a Rs 1,200-crore loan from the Asian Development Bank.

The Government's image suffered a major blow when the state's much-lauded public health system collapsed and there was a repeated outbreak of chikungunia, which killed more than 250 people in two years.

The delegates alleged that Achuthanandan did not lead from the front during that crisis because Health Minister P.K. Sreemathi belonged to his rival camp. Achuthanandan's much trumpeted but aborted move against land encroachers in Munnar also came in for attack as an "unplanned adventure done without consultations with the party".

Factionalism in the CPI(M)'S Kerala unit reached an unprecedented climax last year when both Achuthanandan and Vijayan were suspended from the Politburo for four months after they washed dirty linen in public. Now the rival camps claim that factionalism has come to an end and that the Government would learn from its mistakes to perform better.

The guidelines proposed at the conference are expected to lift the Government out of the abyss. But if it is intended only to tame the chief minister, precious little can be expected from it. With the Lok Sabha polls due next year, the first acid test for the party is just round the corner.

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