Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kerala CM may face heat at party meet

V.S. Achuthanandan left with two options: toe the party line or quit

New Delhi: Ahead of a Saturday meeting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, a politburo member has said the party will continue to defend its scam-tainted Kerala chief Pinarayi Vijayan.
That leaves his arch rival, state chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, with two options: toe the party line or quit.
Achuthanandan has criticized the politburo for supporting Vijayan, named as accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, of corruption in a contract awarded to foreign power equipment maker SNC-Lavalin in 1997, while he was power minister.
“The decision to defend Vijayan has been taken after consultations with all politburo members. Now Achuthanandan has little option but to fall in line or leave the party,” said the politburo member who didn’t want to be identified. “We will discuss the internal troubles of our Kerala unit and also the party’s strategy for the elections (at the meeting).”
The CPM leadership has termed CBI’s move as “politically motivated” and said the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, had been using the agency for “political purposes”.
Tension within the CPM’s Kerala unit reached a peak on 3 February, when Achuthanandan criticized the party over backing Vijayan. “Criticizing CBI for its investigative report amounts to questioning and challenging the court because the high court division bench had directed CBI to probe the case and the investigation was monitored by the court itself,” the chief minister had said.
On Thursday, the Kerala high court ordered the Left Democratic Front government in the state to take a decision soon—preferably within three months—on allowing prosecution of 65-year-old Vijayan and two others in the SNC-Lavalin case. CBI needs the state government’s permission to prosecute since Vijayan was a government functionary at the time of alleged irregularities.
With national elections barely two months away, the CPM can hardly afford tensions to simmer in Kerala, a traditional bastion. However, since the politburo is unlikely to change its stance, the ball is in Achuthanandan’s court, said a political analyst.
Chennai-based columnist V. Krishna Ananth said, “It is quite clear that the party is not willing to give up on Vijayan...the majority of the Kerala cabinet is (also) against giving a sanction to CBI to prosecute Vijayan.” “Achuthanandan would be bound by this decision; otherwise he will have to quit as chief minister,” he said. “He has two options now—either to convince the politburo that a sanction is necessary, that is highly unlikely, or decide whether he would remain chief minister.”
If Achuthanandan, 86, quits the party, it is expected to lead to a split in the state CPM unit. Jyoti Basu, former chief minister of West Bengal, and Achuthanandan are the surviving two of the 32 national council members who had left the Communist Party of India to form the CPM in 1964.
If such a split happens, Ananth says, the CPM will have to pay a heavy price. “The party is likely to lose all 20 (Lok Sabha) seats in the state since the rebel faction (most Achuthanandan supporters who were expelled) has been winning several by-elections. They might not win a Lok Sabha seat but will definitely damage the CPM’s chances.”
The Left parties, led by the CPM, won 19 Lok Sabha seats from Kerala in the 2004 polls.

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