Amid rumblings, Pinarayi faces threats from within for first time

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
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CPM strongman’s future hinges on party’s performance in assembly elections next year

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan

KOCHI: For the first time since his government assumed power in 2016, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appears to be on a weaker wicket than ever as he faces rumblings within his cabinet and among senior party members, thanks to a slew of missteps including the Kerala Police (Amendment) Ordinance and the shadow of suspicion hanging over his office following the gold smuggling scandal.

Pinarayi, who has kept the CPM Kerala unit in a vice-like grip since becoming the party secretary in 1998, continues to enjoy unquestioned leadership and stature within the party apparatus, said political observers, adding that any real challenge or a revolt will come only if he loses badly in the assembly elections next year.

Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac and state secretariat member Anathalavattom Anandan recently came out against the raid by CM-controlled home department’s vigilance in the finance ministry’s Kerala State Financial Enterprises (KSFE), while politburo member M A Baby openly criticised the police ordinance, which had sought to give arbitrary powers to the police.

The 75-year-old Pinarayi, at least on the surface, has the backing of the state committee, which is mostly filled with his ‘yes men’. The ‘Kannur cabal’ comprising Industries Minister E P Jayarajan, his former private secretary M V Jayarajan, Kannur strongman P Jayarajan, in addition to Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and P K Sreemathi, however, is not as loyal as it used to be. There is discord within this group, which can implode at the next party state conference now scheduled to be held towards the latter half of next year — well after the assembly polls — if the party fares miserably in the elections.

“The Kannur lobby is considered the CPM’s engine. That engine is now in trouble. You don’t see the blood on the outside when you have a heart attack. That’s what’s happening in the party now,” said C P John of Communist Marxist Party (CMP), a UDF ally.K M Shajahan, former V S Achuthanandan aide and critic of Pinarayi, reckoned the CM may find himself in an untenable position if his additional private secretary C M Raveendran is booked by the enforcement agencies in the coming days.

Within the party, it’s a well-known fact that P Jayarajan, the popular CPM leader among the cadre in the Communist bastion of Kannur, was removed from the district secretary’s post to curb his growing influence, and there is no love lost between the two. Kodiyeri too is unhappy with Pinarayi as he did not come to his support when his son was put behind the bars in a drugs case even as he is battling serious health issues, forcing him to step down from the CPM state secretary post.

“Apparently, Kodiyeri confided in his close confidants that he did not get the support he was looking for from the CM when his son was dragged into the drugs case. To be fair, Bineesh (Kodiyeri’s son) is not a mafia don or a crime boss as is being made out,” said N P Chekkutty, who has been tracking the Communist party closely since the mid-1970s.

There are others who are also nursing the wounds within the party. For instance, the appointment of A Vijayaraghavan as the party secretary in-charge after Kodiyeri stepped down has rankled politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai and state secretariat member K N Balagopal, who both nursed hopes of becoming the next state secretary, a source said. In fact, Balagopal was handling the party affairs, albeit informally, when Kodiyeri went on leave last year for treatment abroad last December, said a person, who has direct knowledge of the matter. “This gave him hope that he may be asked to manage party affairs on a full-time basis when Kodiyeri stepped aside,” he said.

Chekkutty reckoned Kodiyeri installed Vijayaraghavan as he is a “light-weight” so that he can replace the latter when he returns after he recovers fully from health issues. “But, it now seems Kodiyeri’s health condition is serious, and Vijayaraghavan is likely to stay,” he said. Though the cadre at the grassroots are both disappointed and disillusioned with the government’s unending controversies, “dubious business links” and advisors-led governance, what ultimately matters for the CM is whether he could continue to control the party like he had done in the past.

Shajahan pointed out that Pinarayi has been having an unchallenged autocratic run in the party from 2013, after a bitter fight for control with VS from 2000-2013. “What’s happening is unprecedented. Isaac and Baby may have retreated for the moment, but that’s because they do not want to be seen as hampering party’s chances in the local body polls. We can expect more rumblings to come out in the open immediately after the polls,” he said.

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