Worried over a surge of controversies that have caused some embarrassment, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala, which is heading the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, has decided to keep a close watch over the state government’s administrative decisions. Senior state party leaders said they held a series of meetings to discuss the mechanism for better coordination of the CPI(M) with the government.
Of late, the AKG Centre (the party headquarters) is said to have been worried over disturbing developments at two levels. The first pertains to the “rot” setting in among ordinary cadre. The second is the “avoidable missteps” committed at the ministerial level, said party sources.
During the LDF government’s first term, the CPI(M) had found itself on the defensive when the Opposition tried to make some of such “missteps” a major political issue.
There have been several cases of misdemeanours committed by party workers at the ground level. For instance, some frauds have been unearthed in a couple of party-led cooperatives, the biggest being the Karuvannur Cooperative bank. A few people have been arrested in the case and some officials have been suspended. In fact, a few week ago, the CPI(M) leadership was left red-faced when one of its promising youth activists was arrested in an alleged smuggling case. The accused youth activist allegedly used his links with the party as a cover for his “underworld activities”.
However, in all such cases, the local party units took prompt action against the “fraudsters”, who were all sacked from the party and probes were held to find out the involvement of other workers, if any, and how they managed to evade the supervision of local leaders. However, the party’s image took a considerable hit.
The embarrassment to the CPI(M) leadership can be gauged from the fact that party state committee recently adopted a document titled, ‘The State Government and the Party’s Tasks’, which contains a set of directives to all party units. Ten days ago, the main points of the document were carried by the state party daily, Deshabhimani.
The party state committee has now asked the branch and area committee leaders to keep a constant watch on doubtful elements and those associated with front organisations to keep tabs on any overt or covert involvement with the local sand and soil mafia, as reported in Mathrubhumi newspaper.
According to the report, local committee leaders have been specifically told to take prompt disciplinary action against those interfering in transfers of officials. Without mentioning West Bengal, the document says the party must learn lessons from the experience of states where it has been continuously in power.
At the state level, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, during its first five years, got entangled in a series of controversies, which had caused considerable discomfiture to the party. It began with the appointment of Gita Gopinath as economic advisor to the state government. Her IMF background caused disquiet at the AKG Centre, after which she was quietly “eased out”.
Soon the senior-most IAS officer at the Chief Minister’s Office was arrested for his alleged association with those involved in a gold smuggling case. Then it was the turn of the Sprinkler controversy. Under this deal, the state government was criticised for allowing a firm with foreign links to collect sensitive COVID data. Later, this was also scrapped.
Then there were widespread protests by fishermen when details of a government contract with a private firm for deep sea fishing were leaked to the media. This forced the government to disown the negotiations. In addition, the CPI(M) ranks were upset over the government move to give a freer hand to the police. This decision was also subsequently withdrawn.
Another fault line identified by the CPI(M) state leaders pertains to the penetration of consulting firms in ministries. Some of those smart men and women claim to have Student Federation of India and and youth federation backgrounds.
Now that the Left government has entered its sixth year, the party hierarchy is keen on averting similar pitfalls in future. To begin with, the Chief Minister has already put on hold further negotiations on the proposed Knowledge Mission. The mission is being implemented with private participation (Mathrubhoomi, August 26).
Similarly, further action on the ambitious showpiece K-rail will be taken only after the newly extablished high-level party panel scrutinises it. The project has come under criticism by the Left-dominated Kerala Shastra Parishad and various citizens groups. They say apart from being elitist, the project would cause irretrievable damage to the state’s fragile environment.
The state committee has now appointed a four-member high-level committee comprising politburo members from Kerala to scrutinise all contentious decisions by various ministries and departments of the government. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Ramachandran Pillai, M.A. Baby and state party secretary Vijayaraghavan are its members. Senior CPI(M) ministers will be part of the panel, which will meet every Tuesday. The panel will report its deliberations to the Friday meetings of the party secretariat.
The document, ‘The State Government and the Party’s Tasks’ was approved by the state committee at its last meeting and warns the party cadre at all levels against the “tendency of throwing weight around and boasting of being part of the ruling party.”
The document specifically cautions the ranks that there should not be any interference with the government’s day-to-day functioning. Whatever policy interventions necessary, will be effected through the chief minister or party ministers. The document also provides several do’s and don’ts for the ministers, party leaders and local cadre.
While finalising the names of the new ministers, the party bosses had in last May decided to put its senior leaders as ministers’ official aides. This was to ensure the compliance to party policies and thus, to avert fresh controversies. The oversight by the politburo members’ panel, therefore, amounts to further tightening of the party control.
The writer is a veteran journalist who has been covering politics since the late 1970s. The views are personal.