Ninety-three is no age to open a new front, many would say, definitely not on social media. But V.S. Achuthanandan, the popular CPM leader and veteran of many battles both within and outside the party, isn’t listening to any such advice. In the run up to the elections in May, VS, as he is popularly known, has logged onto social media, launching a website and setting up accounts on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter, signing in with a rather cheeky line addressed to his supporters: “My youthfulness remains with you.”
This ability to constantly remodel himself has been key to VS’s political longevity in a party driven deeply by dogma and rigidity. When he was leader of opposition during the 2001-06, VS worked hard on his image. He identified himself with issues such as women’s empowerment, Dalit rights and land encroachment, issues Left groups had until then considered “too soft”. The sight of VS, bunching up his mundu and walking up the slopes of the Mathikettan Shola forests in Idukki to “catch encroachers” had turned him into an instant hero. Even as a young trade unionist, when he organised coir workers at the factory he worked at in Alappuzha, VS knew that communication was key to politics. Those were the pre-microphone days and as the young Achuthanandan stood addressing his workers, he did so in his now-famous style — halting and winding — that later became fodder for Kerala’s mimicry artistes. It’s a style drawn from Kathaprasangam, a form of story telling that alternates between prose and verse and that’s popular in Kollam and Alappuzha districts of Kerala. He knew his audience, mostly semi-literate factory workers, would connect to this style.
Just as he now knows that the CPM desperately needs to connect to the youth and what better platform than social media to do that.