After the Lok Sabha poll drubbing, CPI (M)’s image takes a beating in Kerala

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Thiruvananthapuram: After the crushing electoral drubbing of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the Lok Sabha polls, getting reduced to a single parliament seat out of 20 that were up for grabs, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) that controls the ruling coalition in Kerala has been pushed further into dire straits by a set of raging controversies, exposing the party’s increasing disconnect with the reality and ideological drift.

Left watchers feel that there is something fundamentally wrong in the way the CPI-(M) is being run in Kerala. Just as any other textbook Communist party, ‘democratic centralism’ is the organisational and hierarchical creed of the CPI (M) too. This would mean that every issue, including the ultimate strategic and tactical lines to be followed in a given situation, is discussed down to the wire in all the organisational tiers. Once the party’s policies are formulated and adopted by this laborious internal process, which will be accepted by all.

The critics, mostly from the left ranks themselves, grumble that there has, of late, been a serious deviation from this time-honoured practice, though not in letter but in spirit. What is now happening, for all practical purposes, is that the organisation is run by party bosses at the top, with the loyal carders and lead comrades in various rungs carrying out the decisions with the collaboration of a well-entrenched bureaucracy within and outside.

The net result is that the party, which should be the van guard of change as per the Marxist-Leninist organisational idea , gets increasingly alienated from the masses outside the committed rank. It was this same slide that preceded the gradual disorientation and the ultimate fall of the Communist regimes elsewhere, staring from the once mighty Soviet Union.

A stabbing incident in the prestigious University College in the heart of the state capital, in which the top campus leaders of the CPI(M)’s student outfit Students Federation of India (SFI) figure as the accused, is the latest in a series of hits that seriously dented the party’s image. The party is finding it hard to defend itself against the public perception that criminal elements have flourished on the campus under the protection of the party leadership itself. Strangely, it was an SFI activist himself who had been seriously stabbed on the campus, and struggled in hospital for several days before returning home.

The incident, which sparked a huge public outrage, has opened a can of worms. Police raids at the home of the prime accused yielded blank answer sheets of the university to which the college is affiliated. This has rendered the credibility of the examinations it conducts in doubt. Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) has also come under a shadow as the same accused ranked top in an examination for a police job held by it recently. The firestorm set off by the campus shocker took so serious a turn as Governor of Kerala, Justice (Rtd) P Sathasivam, summoned the University Vice-chancellor and KPSC Chairman, separately, to express his grave concern over the development.

On the whole, the sordid turn of events laid bare how a premier campus had been turned into a breeding ground for cohorts who will act on command from their political masters. The CPI(M) remains at the epicentre of the aftershocks set off by the campus tremor as its student wing alone has been active on the campus for the last several years. Student outfits of other parties like Kerala Students Union (KSU, Congress) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP, BJP) were simply not allowed to even form their units on the campus by the strong-arm tactics of the SFI.

The lone surviving outpost of Communism in the country, the CPI (M) heads the ruling LDF in Kerala, led by party strongman Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Obviously, Kerala was the only state where the Left was hoping to pick up a few parliament seats in the 2019 general elections, with West Bengal and Tripura having already slipped out of its hands.

However, for the journalists who covered the campaign as well as the poll surveys, it was evident right from the start that the LDF was going to end up miserably against its main challenger Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), and with the BJP improving its vote share without getting any seat.

Odds were against the LDF as a set of issues such as its adamant stand of allowing women of menstrual age to Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, following the Supreme Court verdict last year giving nod for that, marking a break from tradition, stacked against it. While the Sabarimala issue turned large sections of the Hindus against the CPI(M), Muslim and Christian minorities, who account for nearly half of the state’s population, mostly rallied behind the Congress and its UDF allies as the best option against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led BJP. The Left’s narrative that its brand of secularism was undiluted and time-tested compared to that of the Congress failed to sway the minorities.

To make matters worse for the Left, the presence of Congress president Rahul Gandhi as a contestant in Wayanad in north Kerala served as a booster dose for the UDF. Added to these was the poor performance of the state government, especially its failure to quickly rebuild hundreds of homes devastated by the deluge that overwhelmed Kerala last year. These factors combined together to deal a crushing defeat to the LDF with its strongholds across the state crumbling one-by-one, leaving the CPI (M) to clutch to its lone consolation of Alappuzha in the south where its contestant scraped through.

Though the magnitude of the defeat was huge this time, electoral setbacks are nothing new to the CPI (M). The party, with its well-structured network down to the grass roots, had weathered many an electoral storm in the past. But this time round, the worst was in store. In the last two months, the party has been caught in the vortex of a series of events, apart from the campus turbulence.

The danger signals first emanated from the party’s pocket borough Anthoor in Kannur in north Kerala, following the suicide of an NRI entrepreneur. The family members of the deceased, Sajan Parayil, alleged that he had been driven to the extreme by the arrogance of the party-led Municipal Council in his home town, which repeatedly declined final clearance to a convention complex he had painstakingly built lavishing his hard earned savings. The incident again exposed the divisions within the party in the northern district, traditionally a stronghold.

The party’s image also took severe beating with son of its state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Binoy Balakrishnan, facing charges of rape and cheating leveled against him by a Mumbai-based woman. Oshiwara police in Mumbai has registered a case against Binoy, based on the woman’s complaint. She claims that she has a child by Binoy, of their relationship . She complained that Binoy had gone back on his promise of marrying her, after supporting her and the child for a few years. Binoy has rejected the charge, holding that he is being blackmailed by the woman. A Sessions Court in Mumbai has ordered a DNA test on Binoy, which was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

Though the party has washed its hands off the case holding that the organisation had nothing to do with offences allegedly committed by ‘an individual’ and would never intervene in the investigation. The poser the party facing, however, is “ how can a political organisation that claims that it stands for human dignity, gender justice and public morality fail to instil these essential principles in one’s own family members ?”

The party, and the Government, is also on the dock over a custodial death in the Nedumkandam town in the high ranges of Idukki district.

As can be expected in a state of hyper political activity, the opposition and media have gone the whole hog hyping the discomfiture of a central player like the CPI (M). As a well-knit outfit, the party has often defended itself and emerged unhurt through such onslaughts during its long existence. What actually worries the party leadership now is the darkening shadow that the latest turn of events have cast on its future, in times when no individual and organisation can duck the close public scrutiny. The leadership is aware that it will be an uphill task to refurbish the party’s image and credibility, and, regain the eroding ground, before the state assembly elections.

(Edited by Prashant Hamine and written by N Muraleedharan)

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