A big possible worry for the CPM and its supporters post the spectacular Left victory in Kerala had been the choice of the Chief Minister. VS Achuthanandan had won the hearts of the people and Pinarayi Vijayan, that of the party and its network. A choice in favour of either of them could have been real trouble.
But nothing happened when the state and central leaderships threw their weight behind Pinarayi. Party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury had apparently taken the veteran leader into confidence before making the announcement, and all that one could see was an expressionless Achuthanandan.
In the next couple of days, he appeared to have been sulking and many thought he might go off the tangent yet again when he made some cryptic Facebook posts and tweets. But somehow he stayed in line and the party averted a possible crisis.
In the eyes of his supporters and the LDF camp, his stock rose again when he said he didn't care for positions of importance or power. He said his commitment was to people and that he would be their watchdog. Sceptics thought he was posturing while the opposition made fun of the CPM for dumping him after exploiting his popularity in the elections.
VS Achuthanandan with Prakash Karat.
But on Thursday, a cheeky little investigation published by Malayala Manorama newspaper tore into Achuthanandan’s veneer of abnegation. The report carried a photo of him and Yechury looking at a piece of paper, at the swearing in ceremony of Pinarayi Vijayan, in which the titles of some official posts were allegedly scribbled. The posts were advisor to the government with cabinet rank and LDF chairman. The scribbling also included a return to the party’s state secretariat.
The veteran leader’s supporters were happy that he would soon be rewarded with a commensurate position even if it meant of being kicked upstairs.
The message that report sought to convey was that Yechury had given him the note and those positions were the party’s proposals to appease him in lieu of his acceptance of Pinarayi’s Chief Ministership. This surmise was justified by Yechury’s announcement earlier that Achuthanandan would be given his due.
The veteran leader’s supporters were happy that he would soon be rewarded with a commensurate position even if it meant of being kicked upstairs. The ensuing debate was only on one possibility - if he would accept it or not, given that he had stated his disinterest in power and his preference to be a watchdog.
With Narendra Modi.
But the real shocker came later on Thursday when Yechury told reporters in Delhi that they were not his proposals, but Achuthanandan’s. Not in as many words, but he did say that the note was given to him by the latter. Reportedly, somebody from Achuthanandan’s personal staff gave it to him at the swearing in ceremony and he handed it over to Yechury after reading its contents.
So, the cat was out of the bag. The only cover-up that his supporters could attempt now was to deflect the blame to his son, who could have written the note, and his personal staff.
For a 92-year old man, one of the founders of the CPM and a bonafide revolutionary in his young age, who had dedicated his entire life to politics, this is no big deal.
This episode certainly lowered Achuthanandan’s credibility and his stated renunciation of power in favour of selfless service of people. In fact, if the contents of the note were true, it showed another side of the veteran, that many of his critics had been trying to publicise - that he couldn't live without power and its entitlements.
The post of an advisor with cabinet rank means entitlements of a minister: a palatial official residence like the one he presently lives in, at least 25 staff members (earlier it was 30, but Pinarayi wants ministers to reduce it by five), official vehicles, good salary, and all the other perks official privileges for him and his family. In other words, continuing with the entitlements that he enjoyed in the last five years as the opposition leader in the state assembly.
For a 92-year old man, one of the founders of the CPM and a bonafide revolutionary in his young age, who had dedicated his entire life to politics, this is no big deal. But asking for them on the sly, after publicly renouncing them, reeked of duplicity. It would have been perfectly fine with anybody else in the state, but not him. He has been a Demi God who could do no wrong.
Did he fall in the eyes of the people? Probably yes, because all these years he sought to represent their conscience and spoke for them. He was spotless and never compromised with the tricks of realpolitik. He was tough, intransigent and tireless. Probably the only leader after Communist veteran EMS Namboodiripad who the state, cutting across the barriers of class, caste and religion, believed in.
One could only speculate on what could have prompted Achuthanandan to ask for those perks. Probably, he needs some comforts, that he’s used to, in his old age besides the support of his staff.
One could only speculate on what could have prompted Achuthanandan to ask for those perks. Probably, he needs some comforts, that he’s used to, in his old age besides the support of his staff. His range of political work does call for an institutional infrastructure, particularly because of his old age; but he could have been discreet or straightforward. Probably, he was discreet indeed until Malayala Manorama peeped into his note through its long lens.
It doesn’t matter if Pinarayi benefits from this disgraceful episode or not because he has reached his pinnacle and Achuthanandan doesn't matter for him any more. The equations in the party have changed and the purported past duel between them is of no consequence. In fact, more than gaining from it, the party may be smarting under a possible embarrassment given that all is well now.
The only way to get out of this is to give the veteran what he is asking for and close the story. Pinarayi might not have a problem, provided the veteran doesn’t become a thorn in his flesh yet again.