Kerala has voted for change, but it’s anyone’s guess who will lead this change.
While most pre-election surveys and exit polls deemed 92-year-old V S Achuthanandan as the popular choice for chief minister, the state unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the victorious Left Democratic Front, wants politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan to head the government.
The CPI(M) state secretariat and state committee, which is dominated by the faction led by Vijayan, had expressed their preference even before the elections. Both bodies had urged the nonagenarian Achuthanandan, who headed the last LDF government and is currently the opposition leader in the assembly, to make way for the 72-year-old Vijayan by opting out of contest.
But when Achuthanandan agreed on the condition that he would steer clear of the campaign, the party’s central leadership intervened and made him contest the election in addition to leading the LDF campaign along with Vijayan.
The senior leader had insisted on an assurance about his position after the elections, and the central leadership promised to consider his claim once the results were declared. Now that the LDF has won the election with a massive majority, the issue has become a big headache.
The central command is aware that Achuthanandan will not stand a chance if the choice is left to the newly elected legislators or the state committee, since Vijayan enjoys brute majority among both the sections.
The faction headed by Vijayan had sought to increase his chances by giving maximum tickets to his supporters. Many prominent Achuthanandan followers were denied a ticket in the process. However, the former chief minister did not raise any banner of revolt as he wanted to remain in the good books of the new central leadership headed by general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
Moreover, Achuthanandan was also pinning his hopes on a corruption case hanging over the head of his bête noir. The SNC Lavalin case involves the repair and revival of three power projects in Kerala between 1995 and 1997. Vijayan, as power minister, and others were accused of entering a deal with a Canadian firm that caused a loss of Rs 374.50 crore to the state.
Though the high court did not accept a pre-election plea of the United Democratic Front government for an early hearing on the revision petitions filed against Vijayan’s acquittal by a lower court, Achuthanandan felt that the case may continue to haunt his rival.
And with the high court resuming hearing in the case on Thursday, Achuthanandan is hopeful that it could yet block Vijayan’s path to the chief minister’s chair.
The CPI (M) veteran, who had used the case to counter Vijayan’s efforts to smoke him out of powerful positions in the party, is expected to resort to the strategy again should the central leadership favour Vijayan.
The CPM top brass may not able to ignore this claim. Given that the LDF’s main campaign plank was corruption during the tenure of the UDF government, it would be difficult to opt for a graft-accused leader as chief minister.
Should the high court accept the revision petitions and order a re-trial in the case, it will be embarrassing for the party to continue with Vijayan as chief minister. The chances of this happening are high, since the high court had found fault with the Central Bureau of Investigation court’s decision to discharge him and other accused in the case without trial.
Credit is due
To make matters more difficult for the CPM’s central leadership, the majority of the party’s allies in the LDF are in favour of former chief minister Achuthanandan. The Communist Party of India, the second largest constituent of the LDF, had made its mind up even before the election, saying that Achuthanandan was the only mass leader in the LDF who could lead them to victory..
The party pointed to the 68 seats – two short of the halfway mark – that the LDF won in the 2011 Assembly elections, despite the anti-incumbency factor under Achuthanandan, as a proof of his mass appeal.
Political observers now credit the thumping victory in the current election to Achuthanandan. They feel that the 91 seats has the LDF won in the 140-member Assembly is the result of a wave fuelled by Achuthanandan in favour of the LDF, by arousing the sentiments of the people against corruption and misrule of the UDF government. Despite his advanced years, Achuthanandan criss-crossed the entire state during the campaign. He also fought Bhartiya Janata Party and its Bharath Dharma Jana Sena ally by exposing their communal agenda. He also made the going tough for BDJS by pointing out the alleged corruption involved in the micro-finance scheme run by the party’s senior leaders.
Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat are hopeful that the party will be able to resolve the leadership issue without any problem. Karat said that the state secretariat meeting at Thiruvananthapuram on Friday will begin the process of selecting the leader.
Yechury and senior politburo members will be attending the secretariat meeting and the subsequent state committee meeting. There is speculation in political circles that if the two bodies fail to arrive at a consensus, the party may resorting to a power sharing pact between the two rivals. The plan is to make Achuthanandan the chief minister for the first two years and Vijayan for the three years after that. Party sources said that this may be a most viable solution as it will help Vijayan to overcome the SNC Lavalin hurdle.