Late Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, former secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist) Kerala, often told the media that factionalism within the state unit is a thing of the past. Pinarayi Vijayan’s ascension as chief minister in 2016 also coincided with the Kannur strongman’s total domination of the party apparatus, though little did anyone know what really went behind the scenes and the role of Balakrishnan in perpetuating this myth.
Of course, the cracks within the powerful Kannur lobby were obvious to the keen-eyed, but any such suggestion was quickly dismissed as media speculation. With Balakrishnan’s failing health making way for M.V Govindan at the helm, these cracks which were carefully papered over earlier are now gradually coming to the fore. Things came to a head at the CPI (M) state committee last week when its former Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan accused Left Democratic Front (LDF) convener and senior colleague E.P. Jayarajan of corruption and wealth amassment.
Now, what goes behind the iron curtain at the AKG Centre remains fiercely guarded, albeit this news exploding within a day of the meeting at the party headquarters, as if by design. The suddenness of the development, notwithstanding the circumstances, leading to this crisis was in the making for a while.
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It goes back to the last week of August 2022, when deliberations were underway to find the successor to the ailing Balakrishnan. LDF Convener E.P. Jayarajan was the frontrunner as far as the Kannur hierarchy went, although his penchant for shooting his mouth off was held against him. The who’s who of the CPI (M) politburo present at the state committee in Thiruvananthapuram finally zeroed in on Govindan, in consultation with the ailing Balakrishnan. E.P. expected Vijayan to back him to the hilt in the spirit of Kannur comradeship, but that wasn’t forthcoming. Barring occasional tiffs, Vijayan and E.P. go back a long way. Vijayan always held a soft corner for E.P. and it was equally reciprocated by the latter.
It was only in June that E.P. sprang to Vijayan’s defense while flying in an IndiGo aircraft, pinning down youth Congress cadres who were sloganeering against the Kerala CM. The roughing up of the youth Congress workers earned E.P. a three-week flight ban and he vowed to never fly by IndiGo in his trademark impulsive style. There was a slight problem, though: Only IndiGo operated domestic flights between Kannur and Thiruvananthapuram, effectively leaving him with road and rail options.
E.P. didn’t take Govindan’s elevation lightly as he firmly believed that the position of state secretary was rightfully his. In the first week of October, E.P. took a month-long leave — ostensibly for undergoing Ayurveda treatment — only to be extended indefinitely. It was evident that his grouse against Govindan’s elevation was playing out in blatant disregard for party discipline.
E.P. was thus conspicuously absent when the CPI (M) held a much-publicised Raj Bhavan protest against Kerala’s governor Arif Mohammad Khan, in November with general secretary Sitaram Yechury in attendance.
Curiously enough, E.P. was at the forefront of organising the four-day conference of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) held the next month in Thrissur, where Govindan’s absence was all too conspicuous. E. P’s absence in Thiruvananthapuram also meant that the LDF meetings were no longer convened and this caused an impediment to the state government’s functioning. E.P. expected Vijayan to step in and cajole him— as it happened whenever the former clashed with Kodiyeri Balakrishnan—but to no avail. It was against this backdrop that P Jayarajan dropped the corruption bomb against E.P. at the state committee.
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P Jayarajan’s designs
P Jayarajan’s meteoric rise after nearly a decade of being CPI (M) Kannur secretary came to an abrupt halt in 2019. P.J. was getting his legion of fans (dubbed P.J. Army) to write songs in his praise and had become a law unto himself. He even went so far as to defy the writ of the chief minister, failing to control the political murders in Kannur. Vijayan wanted to put an end to it after a conciliation with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mediated by spiritual leader Sri M in 2017.
Vijayan had huddled together with Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and E.P. to put an end to Jayarajan’s reign by asking the latter to contest the Lok Sabha election from the Marxist stronghold of Vatakara, in 2019. He did this by getting his political secretary and next-in-line M.V. Jayarajan (making the famous triumvirate of Jayarajans along with P.J and E.P from Kannur) to replace P.J. overnight in a smooth operation. With Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) winning 19 out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats including Vatakara, P.J. found himself in the wilderness, suddenly cut loose from the party’s chain of command. He was later offered the lowly position of a board chairperson, which he duly accepted, awaiting an opportunity to settle scores.
P.J. had already made his voice heard a couple of times in the state committee, once by speaking up for K.K Shailaja to be given a second term as minister and more recently by warning against the re-entry of his predecessor P Sasi, ousted as district secretary for misdemeanour of a sexual nature. The ‘rectification process’ adopted by the party under Govindan, to keep “bourgeois tendencies” at bay, proved to be the perfect opening for P.J. to strike back at the leadership.
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E.P. boxed in a corner
The CPI (M) politburo, which met in Delhi on 27 December with Vijayan and Govindan in attendance, took stock of the matter before they passed the ball to the state leadership. E.P. attended the CPI (M) state secretariat held on 30 December, showing up in Thiruvananthapuram after nearly three months. It was decided that no internal probe would be initiated till E.P. was given an opportunity to make his defense in the following CPI (M) state committee. While some people feel P.J’s attack on E.P. had Govindan’s blessings, this is very much in the realm of speculation. However, boxed himself into a corner, E.P will have to buckle up and shed the non-cooperation mode with Govindan as he has no other recourse left. E.P. will look up to Vijayan to save him the blushes, yet again.
For Govindan, papering over these cracks and maintaining the charade of cohesiveness à la Balakrishnan is as important as E.P.’s need to clear his name in the party committee. The youth Congress has filed a complaint with the police asking for an enquiry against E.P. by the vigilance department and Anti-corruption bureau. The agency will seek Vijayan’s nod to go for a quick verification of the complaint.
In the unlikely event that the whole episode ends up as a storm in a teacup, questions will still be raised on the right-wing deviancy and crony-capitalist ways of the Marxist leaders. That the CPI (M)’s Kannur edifice rests on such a structure today is widely acknowledged.
The author is a Kerala-based journalist and columnist. He tweets @AnandKochukudy. Views are personal.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)