Party over principlehttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/party-over-principle/

Party over principle

The CPM Central Committee’s decision to remove the Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan from its highest policy-making body,the politburo...

The CPM Central Committee’s decision to remove the Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan from its highest policy-making body,the politburo,has evoked widespread surprise. The communiqué brusquely attributes it to “violations of the organisational principle and discipline.” Such an assertion of blinkered ideology,which makes light of popular opinion,might appear justified on rigid ‘party’ grounds.

Of greater import is the Central Committee (CC)’s exoneration of Kerala state secretary Pinarayi Viajayan,the first politburo member ever to be charged with graft (in the SNC-Lavalin scam) that should fuel national debate on political ethics.

According to the CAG report (2005) it had set Kerala back by Rs 374.5 crores. On June 24th,the CBI Special Court issued a summons to the nine accused. After examining the politburo’s report on the SNC-Lavalin contract,the CC absolves the seventh accused with this observation: “The Central Committee is of the view that Com. Pinarayi Vijayan,secretary of the Kerala State Committee and the Electricity Minister in the then LDF government between 1996-98 was not involved in any corrupt practice whatsoever.”

Can a political party assume the role of a state,suborning the system of justice that is applicable to all others? For this is what the CC in effect has ruled. The CPM resolve to arrogate to themselves judicial power raises fundamental questions as to the very nature of democratic practice. By this contention,any leader arraigned on charges of corruption need be probed only by that party’s committee and needs no judicial scrutiny. If such were the case,would the present all-India General Secretary apologise to Lalu Prasad Yadav,Bangaru Laxman et al,who have been targets of the CPM’s self-righteous indignation? What restitution will the CPM then make to the memory of Rajiv Gandhi,who was vilified for his alleged role in the much measlier Rs 64 crore Bofors deal? He did not take shelter behind his party and was subjected to investigation,before being posthumously exonerated by the Delhi High Court in 2004 . Another defense mounted by Karat is that Pinarayi Vijayan did not make any personal gain out of the deal. Does he then subscribe to the view that Rajiv benefited personally?

A related aspect is the cowardly stand taken by Pinarayi Vijayan,then electricity minister,in the matter of establishing Malabar Cancer Centre at Thalassery. The Rs.98.3 crore grant for the Centre was the main consideration for awarding the contract to SNC-Lavalin without inviting global tenders. If his intentions were guided solely by the public interest of bringing a premier medical facility to backward Malabar,and to increase power generation,why not own up to it? Instead,he tries to shift the blame (of suppressing material facts in the Council Note,and not including important events) to browbeaten bureaucrats. Also intriguing is the vehement opposition to facing prosecution.

The conflation of the dominant party’s nefarious interest with that of the LDF is against coalition dharma,and sets a dangerous precedent. In diametrical contrast is the willingness shown by G. Karthikeyan,electricity minister in the earlier UDF government who initiated the project,to stand judicial scrutiny without hiding behind the petticoats of his party.

The media,both national and regional,have been near unanimous in recording Karat’s partisan role in booting out VS,leaving Vijayan unscathed. This reveals a streak of fascism,which bodes ill for a party that used to work by organic consensus. By wielding the big stick of discipline and condoning an alleged act of corruption,the grim commissar of arid correctness has laid himself open to being accused of mechanical response.

The ideological degeneration of CPM leadership can be gleaned from this single instance,again related to SNC-Lavalin. “An energy infrastructure services project,in which Montreal-based SNC Lavalin will assist in improving energy systems planning and environmental management at the electricity board in the Indian state of Kerala,and possibly neighbouring states,so as to prepare the utility for privatisation. The privatisation of power generation,transmission and distribution activities of state electricity boards is a vital part of India’s economic liberalisation program.” This quote,dated January 8,1997 is posted on the website of Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade,Canada,on the signing of three Canadian International Development Agency agreements by their foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy,exposes the dishonesty behind the CPM’s anti-privatisation posturings.

The tragedy of V.S. Achuthanandan is that he did not pay heed to party strictures to go easy on the alleged corruption charges against a fellow-comrade,choosing instead to swear allegiance to the oath of office. To paraphrase Voltaire: ‘It is dangerous to be right when the Party is wrong.’

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The writer is a former Union minister and JD(S) MP. JD(S) was part of the CPM-led Left Democratic Front till the Lok Sabha elections.