It is the Congress in Kerala that specialises in taking its own life when everything is going right for it. (Must be in the genes — look at the UPA.) The CPM, on the other hand, is unsurpassed in its strategy of survive-and-flourish by any means. But the cold hand of history seems to have put the CPM too in the grip of a death-wish. The only other explanation would be that it is unconsciously conforming to Kerala's top-dog position in the suicide chart of India. The decade-old power struggle between state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and former chief minister and present leader of the opposition V.S. Achuthanandan, which splintered the party monolith beyond repair, is at the core of the suicide phenomenon.
The CPM's history of driving Malayalis up the wall with notorious anti-people tactics like noku kooli or look-on-charge might have had the seed of the death-wish in it. For those unlearned in noku kooli, a brief summary will be enlightening. You are, say, moving house. The worker comrades demand a prodigious sum to load/unload; so you decide to do it yourself with help from friends. The comrades look on from a distance; when you're done, they ask to be paid the demanded wages. If you don't pay up, there is a bit of violence and you get hurt. The revolution in Kerala says the worker must be paid even if he doesn't work. That is a kind of workers' paradise even Marx did not anticipate.
But the story of the undivided communist party's tryst with Kerala in the forties and fifties is another matter. The party was one of the prime movers of social change. It triggered progressive forces in literature, theatre, music and the arts. It revolutionised the feudal caste and class equations, gave negotiating power to agricultural and industrial workers, initiated land reforms and actually functioned as an agent of enlightenment.
That is, till the Stalinist model was hoisted on the party and it became a power-hunting robot in the hands of gurus like EMS. With the split in 1964, the CPM's Stalinist transformation was complete. The thirst for power and money took over. Intellectuals, writers and artists, unable to bend to party diktats, quit en masse. The party shifted focus from the impoverished agricultural sector to the world of white-collared classes where unionisation and fund-collection were effortless. In return, it granted full protection to the corrupt and bestowed bounty on babus. The human face of communism was erased forever. Even the Congress appeared more human.
Perhaps nowhere else is the fascist side of the Kerala CPM so evident as in the Kannur-Thalasserry belt of north Malabar where a terrifyingly primitive sociology operates amongst the cadres. Killing and getting killed is routine. Godfathers rule with an iron hand. The police as well as public officials are terrorised into obedience. Many villages have been taken over by the party, labelled "party gramam" — party village — where only its diktat runs. It also happens that the Kerala CPM is controlled by the Kannur group. It is also well-known that VS has been, for his own reasons, challenging the Kannur lobby. His daring is interesting.
Essentially, Achuthanandan is an undiluted Stalinist. But he doesn't employ Kannur's violent tactics. He is not even a street-fighter. He is a cunning media-strategist who brilliantly projects himself as a saviour of Kerala and the CPM. The irony is that he was put together as an icon by the Congress-supporting media to accelerate the war between him and the Kannur lobby led by Vijayan. Unlike in the case of Dr Frankenstein, the media's creation is proceeding to its targets shooting from the hip and is an indefatigable provider of titillating news based on empty gestures.
The Kannur CPM has now been heavily implicated in the recent blood-curdling murder of T.P. Chandrasekharan, a dissident comrade who posed a major challenge to the party in that area. Party workers and some functionaries have been arrested. While Malayalis have learned to turn a cold eye on political murders, the brutal artistry of this particular butchery has jolted the public. After dismissing the murder as a non-event, Achuthanandan, sensing the public mood, deftly jumped on the bandwagon to carry forward his fight against the Kannur lobby by expressing sympathy for the murdered man, openly questioning the leadership of Vijayan and sending off a much-publicised letter to CPM's central secretariat — all sound and fury signifying nothing but his own agenda. The suicide process, however, got a big boost.
It's Catch-22 for CPM's central leadership because they believe the demagogue in Achuthanandan is a great vote-catcher, but he will not be content with anything less than total control of the party in Kerala. To give the devil his due, Achuthanandan's entry into the murder scenario could help to ward off a strongly rumoured trade-off plan some elements in the ruling United Democratic Front are said to be hatching to save the decision-makers of the murder. Hell of a silver lining!
The fact remains that the CPM's self-destruction, if that happens, is not a desirable development. Because despite all its excesses and decadence, the CPM has historically occupied a secular space, and a vacuum in that zone can turn deadly in the hands of communal predators. Brainwashed Marxist manpower has again and again proved to be a perfect haven for other and, more poisonous, brainwashers. Old habits die hard.
Zacharia is a Malayalam writer, firstname.lastname@example.org