'No' to Cong: CPM protects Kerala turf, ideological purity

Hasan Ismaeel Abdulla Almarzooqi is not the kind of name you find in political discussions in Kerala in normal circumstances. But these, perhaps, are not normal times. Almarzooqi, an United Arab Emirates national who co-owns the Dubai-based JAAS Tourism LLC, has alleged that the eldest son of CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has cheated his company of AED (Dirham) 7 million (about Rs 13 crore).

A formal release of evidence to back the allegation against Binoy Balakrishnan could turn crucial for the party, since the allegation surfaced two days after its Central Committee voted against an electoral alliance with the Congress. That the idea of the alliance was actively backed by party general secretary Sitaram Yechury, to fight the BJP at the Centre in 2019, and was opposed by the influential Kerala unit are no mere margin notes. Conspiracy theories suggest that the alleged rift in the party's central leadership regarding ways to build resistance against the BJP and affiliated forces could have had something to do with the Dubai firm's "disclosure" against the party secretary's son. The "no" to the truck with Congress has opened up space for critics who believe that the CPM has chosen to not consider the larger national picture. Political analysts in the state, however, maintain that avoiding alliance with the Congress would benefit the party.

Coming after its decision against aligning with the Congress, further marked by criticism that the party was not serious about its proclaimed anti-fascist stance, the fresh charges are set to cloud CPM in Kerala, the unit which decidedly swayed the Central Committee vote. The allegations of financial fraud could still only be a temporary setback for the CPM, but its decision to distance itself from the Congress nationally is set to influence its Kerala narrative in the run-up to 2019.

The Central Committee vote will double as a plank for political opponents who claim that the CPM is facing a crisis of credibility and its resolution would alienate those who call for a united opposition to halt the BJP juggernaut. But in the context of Kerala, the party's biggest stronghold, this could well be a vote for tact and pragmatism; and importantly, for staying truer to the party's ideological core. Considering that the Congress continues to be the Left's biggest opponent in Kerala's electoral politics, the vote points to the CPM's intention to keep its strongest territory intact while it tries to mobilise allies and ammunition  for bigger battles. Fakhruddin Ali, political observer, agrees.

"It's also about protecting your last remaining bastions. There is no question regarding the party's commitment to fight fascist forces, but these fights can't always be fought with pre-poll alliances. In Kerala, politics is largely debated on an intellectual line, right from the cadre level. So, if you ally with your principal adversary, the Congress, at the national level and still fight it locally, it is a really tough task to defend such a position," he says.

Prakash Karat, former general secretary of the CPM, whose line against an alliance with the Congress was endorsed by the Central Committee, has scotched rumours of factionalism and defined the draft political resolution in terms of inner-party democracy. The concerns, he said, would be addressed at the 22nd Party Congress in Hyderabad in April. "Interest and concern about the political line to be adopted by the CPI(M) stems from the widespread desire of secular and democratic-minded people that an effective unity be forged to take on the BJP. The political-tactical line that the Party Congress will adopt will meet this concern," Karat wrote about the resolution in party mouthpiece People's Democracy.

Those who back the CPM line point out that previous associations between the party and Congress have failed to check the rise of the BJP. Interestingly, the saffron party's rise has also been evident in West Bengal, where Congress and CPM had come together for the 2016 assembly election. "There is no evidence to show that a collaboration on these lines has worked. We know what happened in West Bengal. It makes better political sense to remain independent and try to build a formidable Left. The party should now be devising strategies to avoid being politically irrelevant," says Ali.

The reaction by the Congress in Kerala has been on familiar lines - it has alleged that the CPM is endorsing soft-Hindutva. The Hindutva allegiance, interestingly, is something the CPM has repeatedly accused the Congress of, and this is one particular trading of charges that will increasingly influence the state's electoral patterns. "By making this Hindutva allegation, the CPM wants to alienate Muslims from the Congress and present itself as the only alternative. An alliance between the CPM and the Congress will derail the strategy. It's all counter-productive, because it will be the BJP that benefits from all this," said a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named.

The Congress has always questioned the relevance of CPM as a national party capable of leading an alliance against the BJP. Earlier this week, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addressed doubts on his party's credentials as a national force by stressing that it's the policies that matter than pre-poll alliances. The Congress has lost the people's confidence, he said in the assembly. The Left has maintained that the neo-liberal economic policies adopted by the Congress prove that it can't be the natural choice to challenge the BJP at the Centre.

Vijayan's statement is in line with the reading that the CPM offers better possibilities by backing popular agitations against right-wing forces than by aligning with the Congress, which is yet to show signs that it is capable of pushing back against the BJP in 2019. The long-term local impact of this tactical line and the opportunities it throws open to an eager BJP will provide the sub-text in Kerala's still bipolar political spaces.

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