It was time for the all-crucial cabinet meeting in the secretariat at Thiruvananthapuram. But four ministers, lead by Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan were huddled in his room. Soon, a letter was sent to Kerala Chief Minister declaring that Chadrasekharan and three of his ministerial colleagues P Thilothaman, VS Sunil Kumar and K Raju, all members of the CPI, will abstain from the cabinet.
It was a clear case of dissent by an ally, making it clear that it will not tolerate the presence of Transport Minister Thomas Chandy in the meeting.
The Kerala High Court’s dismissal of Thomas Chandy’s petition seeking to quash a Collector’s report against him had already made his position as a minister untenable. And the CPI’s rebellion made an embarrassing situation worse for Pinarayi.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in his press meet followed by the cabinet meeting made it clear that he was unhappy with the CPI’s stand. “It was unusual and it shouldn’t have happened at any cost,” the CM said.
Minutes later when reporters approached Chandrasekharan for his reaction to the CM’s comment, he retorted that their step was ‘unusual’ as there were ‘unusual developments’ all around.
“What has been happening is unusual, hence we abstained from the cabinet meeting,” he said, an indirect criticism on the minister hanging on to power and an indecisive Chief Minister.
Chandrasekharan asserted that Chandy’s unwillingness to quit did not mean that the government had lost its collective responsibility. “We have sent a message to the CM that we won’t attend the cabinet meeting. That shows that the government hasn’t lost its collective responsibility,” he said.
The probe by the Alappuzha district collector TV Anupama on land encroachments by a resort owned by Thomas Chandy would have not have happened without the concurrence of the Revenue Minister. Though the CPI had the Collector’s damning report in its hand, the party kept quiet till the LDF meeting held last Friday.
Though Pinarayi had been dragging his feet and ignoring mounting criticism against him, the CPI chose to not make any public remarks against the CPI (M).
Instead it used the LDF meeting, held on Friday, as the platform to raise its demand.
In the meeting held on Friday, the loudest voice was that of the CPI’s. The party was firm that action should have been taken against Thomas Chandy the moment the Collector submitted her report.
The party even took the stand that there was no need for the CPI (M) to seek legal advice on the matter. The CPI (M) which leads the coalition had sought legal opinion and had opted to wait.
The CPI’s aggressive stance even made Congress, the actual opposition party in the state, look meek.
Congress’s situation became embarrassing when its Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha appeared for Chandy at the High Court on Tuesday. Tankha’s appearance came at a time when the Congress was already battling the aftermath of the solar scam report.
In the Munnar eviction issue, CPI had locked horns its some of the most powerful faces of the CPI (M) and played the role of a powerful opposition within the coalition.
The CPI’s public opposition to the CPI (M) is not a new phenomenon.
Many CPI leaders have locked horns with the CPI (M) in the past, Veliyam Bhargavan, an old-school Left leader, had in turn nearly led the CPI to quit the cabinet in 2009.
Known for upholding core Communist values, the CPI had always taken a critical stand when it felt the government was moving away from it. “The CPI’s role in the previous LDF governments was also that of an opposition. The party, most times, has acted in accordance to the expectations of its cadre and that of the general public,” a political critic told TNM.
CPI leader and former MLA T J Anjalose in a Facebook post congratulated Chandrasekharan for directing the probe against Chandy and for ‘taking a stern stand’ on the probe report.
“Thomas Chandy had tainted the LDF government by using a public venue of the LDF as a platform to give his explanation,” the post read.
CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran, former state Secretary Pannian Raveendran had also said in the LDF meeting that Thomas Chandy should quit. Many analysts believe that the CPI's pressure tactic was a major factor that eventually lead to Chandy's resignation.
Even the Nationalist Congress Party has indirectly blamed the CPI . "The CPI spoiled collective responsibility by not attending the cabinet meeting," NCP state president TP Peethambaran said in a press meet after Chandy's resignation.
With the CPI effectively taking over the role of the opposition, it is the Congress that will now have to get its act together.