Kerala Elections Aftermath – Reign of Pinarayi Vijayan?

Pinarayi Vijayan

Never before in Kerala, a Communist party leader or chief minister wielded such undisputed power and control over the party. So is it just the man himself as the media likes to portray about this new political development after the latest assembly elections in Kerala?

CPI(M)’s popular leader E.M.S. once pointed out that the public will rally their support to those who are committed to sacrifice themselves for the cause of the people. But here comes Pinarayi Vijayan and the old ways of things have to be changed! However, contrary to the popular myth, this ferment in the mainstream Communist parties are more than just the individualsi and in other words, Pinarayi is the outcome of this pathetic state of CPI(M), and not its orchestrator.

Already the media and the spokespersons of the ‘so called left’ claim that the coming period is about to witness the governing and the extraordinary administrative prowess of Pinarayi, but those false prophesies are blind enough to see the grounds that’s been shifting already.

‘Communist’ is not a Malayalam word, but mostly all the Malayalis have almost grasped it. Such was its contribution! The hot blood that was shed by the martyrs of the Communist parties, brought such progressive changes in the lives of the people of Kerala, which was steeped in extreme feudal backwardness and reeling in Casteist practices.

But long gone are those days when being a Communist is looked up by many as someone devoted to the noble task of emancipating the oppressed and exploited people. Long gone are those days where the establishment feared the growth of the Communists. Long gone are those days when an idealistic youth looked up to the Communist parties as a material force!

Pinrayi Vijayan, after his 17 years stint as the state secretary of the Kerala CPI(M) just continued his planned journey to be the chief minister of Kerala. The urge to grab the chief ministerial post to get into that ‘hall of fame’ has been the trait of the ‘so-called’ Communist leaders – who are apparently not free from the grips of personal political ambitions, like E. K. Nayanar, V.S. Achuthanandan and so on!

During the period of his party leadership Pinarayi Vijayan through his Malabar lobby, effectively took control of the party apparatus, swaying the organisational control, sidelined dissent across the committees at various levels. But it was not Pinarai who introduced these sorts of bureaucratic manoeuvring within the party organisation to clip off the democratic opinions raised by sincere party workers and the sections of the leadership.

Though CPI(M) itself formed out of the CPI as a protest against the undivided party-leadership’s class collaborationist approach towards the Congress party, the Stalinistii legacies of the CPI, including its bureaucratic control of the leadership over its rank and file persisted.

The struggle for leadership in the Kerala CPI(M) is not just for the political privilege that comes with it, but a parallel course to popularity and power. The state party conferences in the Kerala CPI(M) witnessed dramas of all kinds, where the delegates have been brought by the opposing sides, compromises for settlements of some sorts, back stabbing, ousting dedicated layer in the name of party discipline, etc. It was going on well before Pinaryi state-secretaryship.

However, it is the indifference that the Pinarai’s leadership has shown to the political traditions of CPI(M) and LDF that was most conspicuous! Conducting a political campaign not so different from the establishment parties – the Left Democratic Front (LDF) lead by the CPI(M) resorted to a glamorous leverage of its political bankruptcy. The CPI(M) even roped in movie star Mukesh despite strong protests from the Kollam district committee, which rejected his candidature on the grounds of giving preferential treatment to a film artist over a party worker, sitting MLA and former minister P.K. Gurudasan. The Pinarayi lead CPI(M) state committee literally asked the veteran trade union leader Gurudasan to step back from contesting the seat to make way for this celebrity factor!

Not even a single LDF campaign program pitched a political and socio-economical alternative to the Congress lead United Democratic Fronts – UDF’s regime, which witnessed not only corruption scandals but a governance which was largely intolerable for the general public. Instead the LDF propped up empty slogans and vague promises of assurance like “everything will be ‘Ok’ if LDF is voted to power”!

The present financial crisis in Kerala has its roots in the ongoing global turmoil. The political instability in the Middle-East Gulf countries and the falling oil prices took its toll on the jobs and the remittances of the Kerala emigrant workers. With 20 per cent of householdsiii in Kerala surviving on this foreign money, remittances the significant revenue for the local economy is in decline.

The falling prices of rubber, coconut and agricultural revenues in general is distressing the small farmers and millions of agricultural workers who are leaning on this agro economy. Particularly with the rock bottom prices of natural rubber due to the slowing down of world economy lead reduction in the consumption of rubber and with the falling price of the crude oil, favouring synthetic-rubber production, the tensions are high, with half a million workers depend on rubber plantations. In Kottayam, where around 80 percent of the arable land is under rubber cultivation the crises have seen a meltdown during the run up to elections, with the sections of Kerala Congress(M) which is having a strong hold in Kottayam, forced to protest against Congress led UDF during its time. In fact there was a widespread resentment amongst the farmers and local traders about the role of Congress nationally in the UPA government for instigating free trade agreements with the ASEAN countries, and forfeiting the means to raise tariff & non-tariff barriers against the import of cash crops, tea, fish products, etc.

Lack of decent administration, indulging in corruption and the borrowing of heavy loans with only a fraction spent for public works – the last government was pretty unpopular. The public sectors were squeezed and entities like the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) were refused funding. With 26 KSRTC pensioners committing suicide for not getting their pensions, the precarious conditions of the working class is striking.

But what was the alternative offered by the LDF? While it is true that the maverick finance minister of this newly elected LDF government, Thomas Issac, is up with many projects to tap in remittances, streamlining administration, revenue management, etc. However there is not a single indication of nationalising industries or any concrete program to improve the lives of people in general. Despite this the LDF managed a convincing victory, with 91 seats to the Congress led UDF’s 47 seats, showing the mass discontent over the UDF regime. However it is still modest compared to the 2001 elections when the LDF won 98 seats. Also in this election, the vote share of the LDF – 43%, is actually diminished compared to the 2011 elections, with 44.94%iv in which the LDF lost against UDF.

Reactionary forces like the BJP and RSS are keen to bank on this political vacuum to build their bases in Kerala. The BJP leadership did its best to tap into the phony rhetoric of Modi’s ‘development’ campaign and with their new found allies Vellapally Natesan, the general secretary of the SNDPv– Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam. Vellapally, also the MD of a large contracting company used his post in SNDP to mobilise the support of Ezhavas, who constitute the large caste group in Kerala. But despite the best efforts of Vellapally, his hindutva outfit Bharath Dharma Jana Sena and BJP, its only the smaller elite sections of that community which was swayed towards these reactionary forces. Nevertheless, the assembly election results are clearly showing the increasing voter base for the BJP lead NDA alliance and the significant increase in their popular vote meant heavy losses for the UDF. This remains one of the reasons that the LDF won many seats, despite the reduced popular votes for the CPI(M) lead LDF compared to the previous elections.

The dalit law student Jisha’s murder case opened up the wider social crisis in Kerala. Known for its politically conscious public, the Jisha’s murder case did expose the level of gender inequalities, oppression of dalits, etc. At the same time, many dalit activists openly accused the CPI(M) for tolerating casteism and gender-bias in their ranks. This was clearly demonstrated by the huge movements of Dalits and Adivasis independently outside the clouts of the traditional left parties and this explains the very fact that the oppressed sections consider the Communist parties, particularly CPI(M), as a part of the oppressive establishment!

With a significant section of Adivasis and Dalits being landlessvi, with the rest often possessing very meagre stretches of land, its more than obvious that scheduled castes and the Adivasis were marginalised in the land reform programs that were introduced to eliminate the inequalities in land ownership. The land struggles lead by Dalits and Adivasis in Muthanga, Chengara, etc., exposed the fact that the land question is not a settled problem as the Communist parties claim, and now a large section of activists of the marginalised communities are in open conflict with the CPI(M).

When the women workers of the Munnar tea estate were striking against the management, they refused the intermediary of the influential unions and even dismissed the intervention from the CPI(M) MLA – S. Rajendran. This shows the outburst of anger that was built up over the year because of the irresponsible approach of the trade union bureaucracy, particularly when it comes to workers who are women. This reached a disgusting rock bottom, when a dalit women auto driver Chitralekha faced brutal casteist slurs and physical attacks from the local CPI(M) and CITU workers, with the leadership, and the local bureaucracy of the CPI(M) just ignoring the whole issue. It is this attitude of indifference which flows from the interests of the privileged layers of the CPI(M) and its trade union CITU that blends them with the establishment, particularly to those who are struggling against it!

The thuggish leadership of the trade unions and the political parties, particularly the persisting political violence, growing communal and reactionary clashes and so on, echo the contradictions in the Kerala society. The CPI(M) & CPI are all aware of these issues and social tensions that exist at present, and it is an irony that these organisations themselves, with their political bankruptcy are throwing up the larger crisis! The next five years will be the time this Pinarai lead LDF government will be exposed and will set out to lose the most.

A whole new generation is out there who are not bound by the loyalty to the Communist parties. At the same time a lot of the cadres, supporters of these influential ‘so- called’ Marxist parties’ are increasingly disillusioned. The near total ideological compromise by the growing privileged sections in the CPI(M) and its drive to find material resources to accumulate party assets are not resonating with those cadres who are from the hot beds of Communist struggle. At the same time the so called hard liners in the party do not represent any credible alternative as well.

It is important to understand with the growing level of awareness and political culture, that it is hard to silence the democratic debates and dissent. While it is possible to harness the resources of well educated and entrepreneurial people in Kerala, and to advocate the public ownership of the commanding heights of the productive forces under democratic workers control – to unleash great possibilities for development. And this needs to be done on a global scale and not just a single region or a country alone. It is unfortunate, despite the organisational strength, the Stalinist parties like the CPI(M) and the CPI are not capable of maintaining party democracy, neither are they capable of overthrowing capitalism.

At the same time, it is also important to emphasis the undue influence that the union government of India possess over the regional states like Kerala and in-turn the link between Indian economy and the international economy. This is precisely why it is important, for the working class forces to link up and independently organise nationally as well as internationally, and at the same time accommodating the regional peculiarities.vii

The New Socialist Alternative is the Indian section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and we believe that while campaigning for many immediate demands, such as addressing the massive land crisis amongst the Dalits & Adivasis, tackling unemployment, inflation, falling wages, deteriorating working conditions, etc., it is also important to advance the call for a mass party of the working people, and this will in-turn mobilise the support from not only the advanced sections of the workers, but also from the peasants, and marginalised people like Dalits, Adivasis, etc., who are desperately looking for a real political alternative. At the same time it will be a beacon, for a lot of students and youth activists to fight for a better society!

Sajith Attepuram

New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India)

iKERALA: THE CRISES WITHIN THE CPI(M). http://www.socialism.in/index.php/kerala-the-crises-within-the-cpim/

iiAfter Lenin’s death in 1924, the Soviet Union witnessed the development and the rise of the Stalinist tendency which supported bureaucratic control over the workers and the economy. Stalinism espoused the two stage theory/ stages theory of revolution (a Menshevik idea originally) to safeguard the interests of the bureaucracy within the power structures of the Soviet Union. Socialism, in which an important element is workers’ democracy and control over the means of production and distribution, was suppressed by the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The rise of Stalinism also lead to widespread persecution and mass murder of dissidents, including the assassination of Leon Trotsky, who along with Vladimir Lenin led the great October Revolution of 1917.

iv Kerala polls: LDF must thank BJP & Modi for its victory and UDF’s heavy loss http://www.firstpost.com/politics/kerala-assembly-election-ldf-udf-bjp-modi-oomen-chandy-2789780.html

vSNDP- an organisation known for its progressive and secular traditions for the empowerment of the downtrodden people. It was named after Sree Narayana Guru, a social reformer. It is an influential organisation in Kerala with huge following amongst the Ezhava community.

vii From Trotsky’s permanent revolution “national peculiarity is nothing else but the most general product of the unevenness of historical development, its summary result, so to say. It is only necessary to understand this unevenness correctly, to consider it in its full extent, and also to extend it to the pre-capitalist past. A faster or slower development of the productive forces; the expanded, or, contrariwise, the contracted character of entire historical epochs – for example, the Middle Ages, the guild system, enlightened absolutism, parliamentarism; the uneven development of different branches of economy, different classes, different social institutions, different fields of culture – all these lie at the base of these national ‘peculiarities’. The peculiarity of a national social type is the crystallization of the unevenness of its formation. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/prge.htm