Over the past five-odd years, some of the media reports on V S Achuthanandan have run the imagery of a patriarch in the autumn. Comrade Achuthanandan, however, had shown no signs of settling down.
His has been a face of resistance; a persona often romanticised even by the “outsiders” who don’t always identify with his party’s ideological bearings. The veteran, despite running low on support in the CPM state leadership, has been able to pull off spectacular comebacks as a popular mass leader.
The 2016 Assembly election had him in familiar form, leading the Left campaign with spunk and launching fierce tirades on the Congress, with special attention reserved for Oommen Chandy.
The Left has romped home, winning 91 of the 140 constituencies. Top CPM leaders including general secretary Sitaram Yechury have lauded the 92-year-old Achuthanandan for leading the campaign across the state.
On Friday, it’s hard to miss the irony when Achuthanandan loses out on another term as chief minister because of his age. It’s also hard to miss a sense of resignation as he sits next to Yechury when the latter announces Pinarayi Vijayan as the Left Democratic Front Legislature Party leader.
Achuthanandan’s supporters wonder why his age did not matter when the party projected him as the face of its campaign, in a particularly sweltering summer.
With Pinarayi Vijayan set to become chief minister, the long-drawn-out battle at the top in the CPM is likely to play out differently. Vijayan’s rise was inevitable considering the support he enjoys among the leaders and the cadre; also critical has been his abilities as an administrator who could lead the party into a new age.
When Yechury talks about Achuthanandan’s age in his presence, it’s also a sign to the veteran who once, famously, said his youth was his resilience.
The mass leader-vs-master administrator dynamics will continue to steer debates within the Left but it remains to be seen if Achuthanandan, finally, decides to play the patriarch at rest, offering counsel for men on the ground.