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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What is left of the Left: Status check from Kerala, India’s only communist bastion

Out of the three states, where the Left has a substantial organisational base, Kerala remains, as of today, the only state in the country where it has a government.

Written by Vishnu Varma | Kochi | Updated: July 2, 2018 11:15:50 am
What is left of the Left: A five-part series ran last week from June 18-22. (Illustration by Vishnu PP)

In the last week of February this year, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury reminded the Kerala leadership of his party that they should not try to sway the organisation’s national doctrine. ‘CPM stands not for Communist Party of Kerala (Marxist) but Communist Party of India (Marxist),’ he said. The comment, which came at the state conference of the party in Thrissur, assumed significance as the larger section of the Kerala unit of the party, led by Pinarayi Vijayan, has been vociferously opposed to Yechury’s idea for tactical understanding, if not a direct alliance, with the Congress to defeat the BJP. Sadly for Yechury, just a week later, when Tripura fell out of the Communist grip in Assembly elections in that state, his comments ironically came true. Out of the three states, where the Left has a substantial organisational base, Kerala remains, as of today, the only state in the country where it has a government. Three months after that defeat in Tripura, indianexpress.com travelled through Kerala, the Left’s last bastion, for a status check of its hold on the people, its strengths and the challenges it faces. A five-part series ran last week from June 18-22.

Left glows against a faction-ridden Congress and a weak BJP

In the first part of the series, the electoral challenges facing the Left were looked at. The Left Democratic Front (led by the CPM) currently has a monstrous majority in the Assembly and has the freedom to freely implement its policies in the state. It wields power in a larger share of the local bodies in the state, compared to the Congress-led UDF and BJP-led NDA, and has the window to ensure proper percolation of state government funds and carry out the development activities in the state. As the recent bye-election in Chengannur shows, where the LDF defeated the UDF by a whopping 20,000 votes in a predominant Christian belt, it has proved itself as the safer bet, especially for the minorities who look at the BJP with caution. Against a Congress, mired in severe factionalism, and a BJP, still organisationally weak, the LDF fancies its chances in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. The first part of the series reveals what the CPM’s Kerala strategy seems to be and how it chooses to counter both the UDF and the NDA. Read more

Ex-leaders say party has lost its liberal character

What is left of the Left: Status check from Kerala, India's only communist bastion For long, the Communist parties in Kerala have seldom seen a leader tower above the party structure. But times are changing. (Illustration by Vishnu PP)

The second part of the series focuses on the conversations with former leaders of the CPM to understand their sense of the organisation’s trajectory and its policies. Several ex-leaders commented on how it has strayed far away from the original ideals and principles that it had steadfastly followed in the 50s and 60s, under the leadership of EMS (Namboodiripad) and AK Gopalan (AKG), only to dilute them over the years. Unlike past decades, where a leader including the likes of EMS or AKG never rose above the party, times are changing, they said. An authoritarian leader, in the form of Pinarayi Vijayan, maintains an iron grip over both the government and the organisation, they said. They argued that the party ends up following the same neo-liberal policies that it pretends to oppose. Read more

Damage inflicted by political killings has hit party hard

Both the CPM and the RSS-BJP have been hit fatally in the political killings in Kerala, data from 1995 shows.Personal angst and rivalry, in many cases, have superseded ideological tensions. (Illustration by Vishnu PP)

In its third part, indianexpress.com travelled to the tiny village of Orkkatteri on the fringes of Kozhikode district which witnessed, six years ago, one of the most shocking political killings in Kerala. In 2012, TP Chandrasekharan, a once-frontline leader of CPM in Kozhikode, was assassinated in the dying hours of a night by a gang which was later found to have got the stamp of the CPM. It turned out Chandrasekharan’s rebellion against the party and his founding of a new organisation to fight elections had disturbed the Left’s rank and file. Chandrasekharan’s murder proceeded to shake the state’s political class and, more importantly, the CPM’s leadership. The remnants are alive even today. Read more.

CPI – the rebel within

Sixteen years after the split, the CPI and CPM came together to form the LDF in 1980 and have contested elections together in Kerala since then. (Illustration by Vishnu PP)

Since 1980, the CPI and CPM, splinters of a once-united and strong party, have fought elections together in Kerala. While the CPM always played the role of an elder brother, the CPI was happily playing the second fiddle. But of late, since 2016, the equation between the two Left parties, whose ideological differences are a headache for even their own cadre, have changed to a large extent. The fourth part of the series throws light on those dissensions between the two Left parties, at a time when the Left has to remain united to fight the BJP. Read more.

Perspectives from the top

What is left of the Left: Status check from Kerala, India's only communist bastion Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said, “Votes flowing towards the BJP has always come from the Congress. We have seen that nationally.” (Illustration by Vishnu PP)

For the final part, indianexpress.com took a train to Thiruvananthapuram to meet the party’s top organisation leader in the state at its headquarters, the AKG Bhawan. Over a 45-minute interview, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the party’s Politburo member and former home minister, touched upon a range of issues from its evaluation of the Chengannur bypoll victory, how it sees the BJP in the state and its role in the political killings. Read more

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