Having won the first round in the battle for supremacy in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI(M), Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is unlikely let slip his advantage as he takes on party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury at the 22nd party Congress, which began in Hyderabad on Wednesday.
The first round was won by Vijayan in January this year at a Central Committee meeting of the party in Delhi.
He had then led the group of 55 members who voted in favour of former General Secretary Prakash Karat's position that the CPI(M) should not have any electoral truck with the Congress party. Only 31 voted against the move, which incidentally was the line of Yechury, a strong votary of an alliance with the Congress.
And since then, the already-sour relationship between the two has taken a nosedive.
The battle between the two can be traced back to the 21st CPI(M) party Congress held at Visakhapatnam in 2015. While Vijayan and his faction wanted S. Ramachandran Pillai, the veteran party leader from Kerala, to become the General Secretary, things did not quite go the way he wished, paving the way for Yechury's elevation as Karat's successor.
Three years down the line, Vijayan has virtually the entire party firmly in his grip. His long-time foe in the state, former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, is keeping a very low profile on account of his age and many supporters deserting him.
An overwhelming majority of the 175-strong delegation of party members from Kerala is likely to do Vijayan's bidding if the need arises at the five-day Congress, which concludes with a public rally in Hyderabad on the April 22.
In all, 780 delegates with voting rights will be attending the Congress and Kerala, with 175, has the largest contingent, followed by West Bengal with 165.
With the Central Committee already showing its allegiance to Vijayan in January, party insiders say that, should there be a contest to elect the next General Secretary, it could mean curtains for Yechury.
A top source in the party told IANS that given the present state of affairs in the CPI(M)-- a party that is not in the best of health, especially after losing its last eastern bastion in Tripura to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- Yechury's position is somewhat shaky at the moment.
"If there is any thinking about making changes at the highest level, Manik Sarkar, the former Tripura chief minister, is seen as the best bet to replace Yechury. Sarkar enjoys the support of Vijayan, besides a sizeable chunk of delegates from West Bengal -- which is bad news for Yechury.
(Sanu George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)