The spectre of the West Bengal unit of the CPM pulling its Kerala counterpart into the Bay of Bengal is haunting the comrades in the southern state. For the Bengal unit of the CPM, an alliance with the Congress to counter Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in the coming Assembly elections may be the last hope of survival. But how much the Bengal “arrangement” casts a shadow on the prospects of the party down South remains to be seen. In Kerala, the comrades will find it difficult to justify to the voters the “war in Kerala, peace in Bengal” syndrome.
The ground realities in the two states are as different as the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. If it is a matter of survival in Bengal, it is a chance to regain lost glory in Kerala. Hence the reluctance of the Kerala CPM, as one party member put it, to “commit political hara-kiri”.
The Kerala electorate has been voting to power either the Congress-led United Democratic Front or the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front, alternatively, every five years for the last four decades or so. Logically, this time round, the LDF should win. In fact, the wind too was blowing in their favour. After losing three byelections in a row, the LDF managed to stage a respectable comeback in the local elections towards the end of last year. Then Congress Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his ministerial colleagues got embroiled in allegations of corruption, resulting in the resignation of powerful Finance Minister and Kerala Congress patriarch K.M. Mani. Not a single day passes without a fresh allegation being made against Chandy by Saritha S. Nair, the queen bee of the solar scam that has engulfed the government. Print and visual media have been flooded with stories of sex and sleaze, back and front stabbing, carpets being pulled from under the feet.
Anyone who has an axe to grind is having a go at Chandy and company. What more could the CPM have asked for in an election year? However, the UDF has also hit back, trying to reopen old wounds such as the Lavalin bribery case against the Left’s tough-talking chief ministerial candidate from north Kerala, former state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. Once let off by the CBI court, Pinarayi is in the dock again as the government files a review petition in the case. The case, which came up for hearing on Thursday, has curbed the belligerence of Pinarayi, who led a Kerala Yatra from north to south. Though a single-bench court has given reprieve to Vijayan by refusing to accept the case immediately, it will be an issue during electioneering. Plus, three of Left’s prominent leaders from the party’s stronghold of Kannur, including the district secretary, are under different stages of legal wrangles over their alleged involvement in more than one murder.
Even as the party leadership was crafting its strategy to counter all this, the Bengal dampener came. So the Kerala leadership came out in unison against any move to align with the much “hated” Congress in Bengal. Former General Secretary Prakash Karat, who has always sided with the present leadership in the state CPM, added to the muscle.
The Kerala unit pointed to the decision of the party’s 21st congress at Visakhapatnam last year not to have any truck with Congress in any state.
Another prominent Karat ally, Politburo member S. Ramachandran Pillai advocated that the final decision of a tie-up with Congress rested with the central leadership and even hinted at a vote in the powerful 91 plus 10 special/permanent invitees of the powerful Central Committee (CC). The CC, after debating the issue for two days left it open to the West Bengal unit to ally with “democratic forces” in its fight against Trinamool and BJP.
However the party desisted from naming the Congress in any of its releases, thereby cleverly leaving the matter to anybody’s guess.
It is well known that Bengal and Kerala comrades do not see eye to eye in contentious ideological discussions.
While the Bengal comrades have an aura of intellectual superiority surrounding them, the comrades down South have the brawn and a strong foothold among the masses. The Kerala leadership, if not openly, is now questioning the claims of the party machinery in Bengal. How could the party crumble in just five years of Mamata Banerjee coming to power? “After all, we had implemented more or less the same tactics in muzzling opponents for 34 years,” said a young leader.
Not surprisingly, the only differing voice is that of veteran V.S. Achuthanandan, a steadfast ally of present general secretary Sitaram Yechury and a bête-noire of Karat. “What is wrong in Bengal comrades asking for an alliance with Congress?” he asked, adding “they are the ones who are at the receiving end of Mamata Banerjee’s stick.” But a section of the party is of the view that Achuthanandan took this stance hoping that he would get Yechury’s support for chief ministership in case the party is voted to power.
With the Sangh Parivar determined to make a foray into the state this time around, many political pundits who believe that the Hindutva brigade might well turn out to be a spoilsport for both fronts.
Overheard: Who will perform the last rites of CPM? Karat or Yechury!