No Left turns

A practitioner supposedly of iron-clad Leninist organisational principles, Kerala Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan has been a cunning playmate of “bourgeoise” democracy, all along trying to subserve his chequered proletarian career, spanning some 70 years. Facets of the political persona of Mr Achuthanandan, popularly known as “VS”, still remain inscrutable.

But then, he had set out a roadmap for himself the day he walked out of the CPI national council in 1964, along with 31 others, to form the CPI(M).
One needs to go back in time to trace the commissar’s transformation into an electoral icon that the party can today ignore at its own peril.
Just before the 2011 Assembly elections in Kerala, an ardent fan of VS wrote that Mr Achuthanandan came to prominence in the state’s Left politics by employing the most modern political tactics and methodologies. This is true. Otherwise Mr Achuthanandan couldn’t have made such a comeback unscathed, especially since he was on the defensive organisationally, and within the CPI(M).
How such a conservative Stalinist could manoeuvre his way through the strict Leninist party norms maintained by the Kerala state committee and the CPI(M) is a question for which I don’t yet have a convincing answer. But I see a pattern in the way Mr Achuthanandan is now getting ready to re-establish his position in the party. This is the right time for such a venture as the CPI(M) is starting its organisational elections in preparation for the party congress to be held next April in Kozhikode.
Mr Achuthanandan has initiated a new factional struggle by openly challenging the disciplinary action taken by the state leadership on local party members in Kasargode district, for participating in demonstrations in his support when the leadership denied him a ticket in 2011 Assembly election.
The party leadership can definitely claim that they took a correct step as the demonstrators were not just supporting Mr Achuthanandan but were also shouting slogans against other state leaders. Even a democratic party won’t allow such violation of organisational norms, let alone a strict Communist one.
But Mr Achuthanandan is putting a spin on this story. After the 2011 Assembly elections, when Mr Achuthanandan’s role in putting the state party in a better position was openly recognised by the party’s central leadership, they were, in essence, he argues, approving all activities, including the demonstrations, which contributed to a better result for the party. So how can the demonstrators be punished? Another point raised by Mr Achuthanandan is that in the run-up to the party congress, disciplinary measures of the above nature are not allowed.
The state secretariat of the CPI(M) has, as a face-saving measure, issued a statement upholding disciplinary steps taken against the demonstrators and has criticised Mr Achuthanandan for creating confusion. Mr Achuthanandan was prompt to issue a denial.
When we look at these developments from outside both arguments seem logical. But they cannot reconcile with each other.
Over the last six decades, Communist parties have been actively participating in the country’s parliamentary system. Even though they claim that their participation is only a tactical step, their strategic target being the establishment of proletarian dictatorship through parliamentary democracy. Of course, they still maintain organisational norms strictly on Leninist terms, akin to a revolutionary cadre party.
But parliamentary democracy needs a flexible organisational structure. Leninist organisational norms and the needs of parliamentary electoral politics, therefore, come in conflict often.
Mr Achuthanandan was able to become the chief minister of Kerala in 2006 mainly because of the sharpening of this contradiction. The state leadership’s initial decision, denying a ticket to Mr Achuthanandan, was approved by both the central committee and the politburo. But Mr Achuthanandan’s supporters protested vehemently, staging demonstrations and meetings backed by the mainstream media. The politburo was compelled to change its decision and ask the state leadership to allow Mr Achuthanandan to contest election.
Electoral politics changed the whole situation — there was a strong “VS wave” which led to a sweeping victory for the Left Democratic Front in 2006.
Before the 2006 elections, Mr Achuthanandan was organisationally very weak and unable to assert even for a ticket. After the elections he became the chief minister. In normal circumstances such a situation could not have been imagined. A Communist party will never think of changing a decision approved by its leadership. But here the Leninist party leadership had to bow before public opinion, even if it was manipulated.
Though the party tried to control the chief minister using its organisational norms, and it was successful on many occasions — the chief minister did not have the freedom even to pick a personal secretary of his choice, on other occasions, he got his way. Like when the Lavalin corruption case against party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan came before the governer for approval of prosecution, Mr Achuthanandan opposed the party stand on the ground that while in office he had to abide by the Indian Constitution. He was indirectly saying that as chief minister he was not bound by the party constitution.
The crisis faced by the CPI(M) today in Kerala is serious and it is not a creation of Mr Achuthanandan. His factional fight has only brought the problem centre stage. A Communist party following conservative organisational norms and political approach will never be able to function creatively in a vibrant parliamentary democratic system.
As their organisational functioning and political planning can never be transparent and open, the CPI(M) will always face conflicting situations similar to those created by Mr Achuthanandan. The only solution before Left parties like the CPI(M) which have decided to participate in the parliamentary system is to transform themselves into full-fledged democratic parties.

K. Venu, a former Naxal leader, is a prominent political analyst based in Kerala

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