The CPI (M) and CPI have a historic divergence that dates all the way back to 1964, when the United Communist party split. The CPI’s decision to join hands with the Congress back in 1969 prompted the tag valathanmar (rightists) for the CPI.
And it seems that even more than half a century later, history refuses to simply let things lie. The CPI and the CPI (M) may stand together as partners in the Left Democratic Front coalition, but that hasn’t kept Kanam Rajendran, the incumbent secretary of the CPI, from functioning as a loud member of the Opposition ever since the LDF assumed power.
It all began just a week after the LDF assumed power in the state in May 2016, with protests against the Athirappally Hydro Electric Project. Differences came to the fore when CPI (M) minister Kadakampally Surendran spoke in support of the project. The CPI countered; that the party was trying to uphold the populist image of the Left, and argued that “the Left shouldn’t be weakened”.
More recently, the CPI (M) took issue with attempts to remove illegal constructions in the hill regions of Idukki’s Munnar. While the local leaders of the CPI (M) objected stridently to the move, the CPI has been enthusiastic in backing it. The CPI(M) has been asked by both CPI and it's own leaders like VS Achutanandan if the party was with the builder brigade or the green brigade.
The portfolio of Revenue is handled by the CPI and Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan has publicly asserted that there can be no going back on the evictions. On Thursday, CPI (M) leaders burnt their fingers with a disastrously unsuccessful attempt to block Sub Collector V Sreeram from carrying out the operation.
Ironically, the CPI had joined hands with sections of the CPI (M) to stop the famous Munnar Operation launched by CPI (M) strongman VS Achuthanandan during his term as Chief Minister in 2007. At the time, VS had kicked off the operation through his trusted officials – Suresh Kumar, Raju Narayanaswamy and Rishi Raj Singh. The CPI had silently opposed the move as it feared that encroachments carried out by its party workers would also be impacted.
“In fact the Munnar Operation had a negative impact. Later even the High Court ordered the government to give compensation for some of the buildings demolished by the team. It, in a way, encouraged unabated encroachment. The CPI is, at present, trying to build up its image by taking strict action against encroachers and prove that it is capable of doing what VS Achuthanadan was not able to do,” a coalition insider says. Minister MM Mani, the most prominent leader of the CPI (M) in Idukki, attacked the CPI for their pro-eviction stand, which was strongly resisted by CPI leaders.
The other major issue Kanam has picked up on and flayed the government over is the police action during the protest by Jishnu Pranoy’s parents. Kanam even visited Jishnu’s mother at the Government Medical College Hospital. This was enough to provoke the soft-spoken Prakash Karat, former General Secretary of the CPI (M). Two days ago, Karat warned Kanam that, “he shouldn’t forget that he is not in the Opposition.” The CPI (M)’s hardcore leader EP Jayarajan also ‘reminded’ Kanam that, “nobody has chosen him as the head of the LDF”.
Kanam, a former trade union leader, was unfazed, deigning to reply on Thursday that he is “too humble to speak against big names like Mani and Jayarajan”. He was keen, though, to recount at a press meet the many lapses of LDF governments past and present – from the way they suppressed the Maoist uprising in Nilambur forest to the failure to control Munnar encroachment. Kanam had also openly locked horns with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Januray this year on his stand that cabinet decisions can’t be brought under the RTI Act.
There are many precedents to Kanam’s rebellious stance. The late CPI leader CK Chandrappan was also harsh in the fight with the CPI (M). During his tenure as state Secretary from 2010 to 2012, Chandrappan demanded that the then state Secretary of CPI (M) Pinarayi Vijayan face prosecution in the infamous SNC Lavlin case. This was at a time when Vijayan’s bête noire VS had also raised the same demand, while the CPI (M) and Vijayan were keen to put the case behind them. The rumour mills were abuzz that VS might join the CPI under Chandrappan’s vibrant leadership, since VS was waging a lonely battle in a CPI (M) that was united against him.
Chandrappan’s predecessor Veliyam Bhargavan, an old-school Left leader, had in turn nearly led the CPI to quit the cabinet in 2009. Veliyam was state secretary from 1998 to 2010. In 2009, Veliyam had openly said that his party would quit the cabinet if the CPI (M) did not give up its proposal to back an Independent candidate for the Ponnani Loksabha seat. Pannian Raveendran, state Secretary between 2012 and 2015 – the otherwise non-aggressive face of the CPI – had prevented the entry of KM Mani’s Kerala Congress (M) into the LDF. Again, all the leaders of the CPI (M), with the exception of VS, were wholehearted in welcoming Mani.
Political analysts are, however, of the view that the fight between the two Left parties has only contributed to strengthening the existence of each of them. Both parties have had to consistently establish that they haven’t deviated from Left values, which has acted as a corrective force within the coalition.