By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi : Prakash Karat, the quintessential Stalinist in democratic politics, has finally stamped his authority with a decision he alone could have taken: put the hugely popular chief minister of Kerala and his strongman-critic finally in their place by axing them from the party's most important body for indiscipline.
Karat was the spearhead of Saturday's stunning decision by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to suspend both Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and the state's party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan from the politburo for fighting it out in the public despite repeated requests not to do so, party sources said Sunday.
For years, the urbane Karat, one of the most popular heads the CPI-M has had in recent times, had been pleading with Achuthanandan and Vijayan to end their differences and to work together to strengthen the party in Kerala, which way back in 1957 provided the world's first communist government through the ballot box.
But when Achuthanandan and Vijayan took on each other publicly even days before flying to New Delhi to attend the politburo meeting, Karat realized enough was enough and decided to crack the whip in a manner unseen in Indian politics: the popular chief minister was suspended from the leadership body even while the CPI-M gave full marks to his governance. Vijayan too got the boot.
"Who else but Karat has the stature to take such a decision?" asked a Central Committee member of the CPI-M, speaking to IANS on the condition of anonymity. "Indeed, people in the party were looking to Karat to do something like this. A decision of this level can't be taken without the general secretary's specific approval."
In this particular case, the sources said, Karat was instrumental in goading the politburo, of which both Achuthanandan and Vijayan were members, to suspend them to make it clear without any shadow of doubt that the CPI-M will not tolerate indiscipline beyond a point irrespective of who is involved and what cost the party has to pay.
The Central Committee member went on: "The decision is very much in Karat's character. He is a man of discipline, a very sound organizational man and ideologically oriented. He does not believe in faction or power politics."
Karat, who belongs to Kerala and studied in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, took over as general secretary in 2005, bringing about a generational change in the CPI-M that was until then always led by products of politics going back to the British rule.
Even when the now ailing Harkishan Singh Surjeet was the general secretary, Karat was so popular in the rank and file that he faced no challenge in the path to leadership. When Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, now the chief minister of West Bengal, almost quit the party in disgust when he was the home minister after a run in with Jyoti Basu, it was Karat who brokered peace.
Added another CPI-M member who has been with the party for years and who did not want to be named: "The action against Achuthanandan and Vijayan will surely increase the stature of Karat. It will also send the right signal to party members not just in Kerala but also across the country. His image is bound to go up."
Saturday's politburo meeting was attended by 13 of its 17 members. Jyoti Basu and Surjeet did not attend and two members have died. Barring Achuthanandan and Vijayan, all others backed Karat's appeal to send the two men packing from the politburo.
The effect was immediate. Achuthanandan and Vijayan, who until then were vocally hitting out at one another as if they were from rival parties, flew back to Kerala without uttering a word to waiting journalists.
CPI-M sources said the move against the two top Kerala leaders has gone down well with the rank and file because it was known that Karat had been trying for years to bring peace in the state unit, which has now become synonymous for brazen disunity in a party where discipline is the byword.
But they also added that Achuthanandan and Vijayan could be "rehabilitated" in the politburo if they "behaved well over a period of time". The next CPI-M congress, which takes place once every three years, is due in 2008. A new politburo is constituted every time a congress meets.
The CPI-M, founded in 1964 and among the few Left parties in the world that still idolizes Stalin, has earlier too come down harshly on leaders with immense appeal. But it is the first the CPI-M politburo suspended not one but two politburo members.