If the Congress-led United Democratic Front government of Kerala was plagued by inter-party tussles during its tenure, the present Left Democratic Front is facing a crisis due to growing differences between CPM and CPI on crucial issues relating to governance. Perhaps this is the first time that the CPI is taking a bold stand against CPM on major issues and making it known too. When it comes to Kerala, coalition politics is the norm, rather than an exception. The state, which was formed in 1957, has never had a single-party government since 1959, the year the Communists were dismissed from power following a popular uprising in the state. Ever since, the state has been ruled by coalition partners led either by the Communists or the Congress. After the Communist Party of India split in 1964, it was the breakaway faction, CPI (Marxist), which mostly headed the Left Front in the state, barring a few exceptions. While the Muslim League and the Kerala Congress that broke away from the Congress changed sides as per their convenience, the CPI has been playing second fiddle to the CPM. The Marxists maintained a big brother attitude towards the parent body, whose support base in the state has been eroding faster than that of CPM itself. But with CPM strongman Pinarayi Vijayan conducting himself more as a party chief, rather than a Chief Minister of a coalition, CPI is making it clear that it cannot be taken for granted any more as was the case on previous occasions.
Be it the encroachment issue in the hill resort of Munnar, the “suicide” of a teenager, Jishnu Pranoy, in a private college hostel, students’ agitation for justice at the Law Academy in Thiruvananthapuram, the CPI chose to differ with the avowed policies of CPM. Of the 19 ministers in the Cabinet, 11 are from CPM, four from CPI and the rest from other Front partners. All the important portfolios are held by CPM and CPI. In its running battle in Munnar, Revenue Minister E. Chandrasekharan of the CPI has shown exemplary courage in supporting a sub-collector in the area who has dared to take on the all-powerful land mafia, thriving there under the protection of CPM. This had pitted the CPI against the powerful CPM leader from the area, M.M. Mani. So far, CPI has not budged from its stand and so the sub-collector continues in his post, though the Revenue Department has scaled down its drive against illegal encroachers. However, it is pursuing the case against the Law Academy, which has usurped prime land in the state capital, much to the chagrin of CPM bigwigs. But it is the actions of the state police that have brought the two parties publicly against each other. It started with the police highhandedness in dealing with the agitation of Jishnu Pranoy’s mother in front of the state headquarters. While the Chief Minister, who also handles the home portfolio, and the CPM leadership came out justifying police action, CPI not only condemned it, but also demanded action against certain police officers. That nothing came out of the protest, is another matter. The party state leadership had also expressed anger against rising incidents of violence against women, even as the Chief Minister and CPM leadership tried to play them down as “isolated incidents” each time these happened.
The latest in line of CPI dissent is the brutal suppression of a people’s protest march in Kochi against the setting up of an LPG storage plant by the IOC. The agitation has been on for more than 100 days, but the government has not done anything to solve the issue, which the protesters claim is genuine. More than a 1,000 families in the area of Puthuvype fear that their very existence will be threatened if IOC is allowed to set up the plant. But the way the police used force to disperse women and children agitators, has made CPI warn CPM about a repeat of Singur and Nandigram in Kerala. The CPI, under the present state president Kanom Rajendran, has been very vocal about the way LDF is being run. CPM has been riding roughshod over a pliable administration. CPI’s mouthpiece Janayugom recently warned CPM against using its police force to put down genuine people’s agitations. In fact, in the absence of a credible opposition in the state and the silencing of eternal dissenter in the party, V.S. Achuthanandan, it is only the CPI which is raising its voice against the “anti-people” policies pursued by CPM. How long it can continue doing so is to be seen, especially in the light of CPM’s attempts to bring in others, especially K.M. Mani’s Kerala Congress into the LDF. This is seen by many as a clever move to silence CPI.