The Communist Party of India (CPI) is entering a crucial phase of generational shift in Kerala with the start of the party conferences from Thursday. The first district conference will be taking place in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram. However, all is not well within the CPI.
While the state secretary Kanam Rajendran dominates the political scene in the state, his assistant secretaries K Prakash Babu and Sathyan Mokeri are lined up against him. In fact, CPI workers feel that the real fight to control the party is taking place not at the conferences but at M N Smarakam, the party’s state headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram.
Age limit comes into force
With an age limit of 75 years being implemented in the factions, a large number of district, state and national leaders would no longer be holding party posts after the current conferences. Moreover, an age limit of 65 years will be imposed for the district secretaries, along with a maximum of three terms. This move would see secretaries of several districts losing their positions. Similarly, assistant secretaries Prakash Babu and Sathyan Mokeri also are unlikely to continue as per the new norms. In short, the new state council of the CPI to be elected in October would present an entirely new picture.
However, many observers doubt whether the general shift in the party would affect Kanam, as he is only 72 years of age and is in the second term as state secretary.
Still, a section of leaders in M N Smarakam as well as outside have already declared war on Kanam. This is evident at the ‘mandalam’ meetings, where confrontations between those supporting and opposing Kanam have taken place. This trend is expected to continue at the district conferences also.
Incidentally, the membership of CPI in Kerala witnessed a significant increase under Kanam. While there were 1.33 lakh members during the previous state conference, the figure is 1.77 lakh at present. In other words, 43,000 more members is a record for the CPI.
As per data, Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Alappuzha have most CPI members. While the membership rose in all districts, the number of branches increased from 9,000 to 11,000.
Criticism against Kanam
The main allegation against Kanam is that he has been playing second fiddle to the CPM and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, thereby threatening the separate identity enjoyed by the CPI.
However, Kanam’s supporters point out that when the CPI state secretary had opposed certain policies of the CPM, the central leaderships of both parties agreed to a consensus. Kanam was only following that agreement. However, the agreement was being violated by central leaders such as Annie Raja, say Kanam backers.
Change of guard
Meanwhile, the secretaries of all districts except Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Thrussur, Malappuram and Kasaragod are expected to leave their posts under the new norms.
Another point of debate in the party is regarding the age limit of 75 years for district council membership. While the anti-Kanam group wants an exemption to this norm, supporters of the state secretary want the condition, which was decided by the national council, to be followed strictly.
By present indications, Kanam has an upper hand in Thrissur, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Palakkad, Malappuram, Kannur and Kasaragod, while those opposing him are ahead in Ernakulam, Idukki, Kozhikode, Pathanamthitta and Wayanad. At the same time, the stand adopted by some local leaders would be crucial in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam.
Ismail, Divakaran to leave
Two senior leaders who desperately wished to become the state secretary in the past would moving out of party factions with a dejected mind during the current conferences as they have crossed the age of 75. They are K E Ismail, presently a member of the CPI national executive and C Divakaran, who was earlier a member of the panel.
Even then, Ismail continues to be the main figure in the anti-Kanam faction. However, with Ismail not in a position to enjoy the post of state secretary, many political observers wonder whether he would be keen to back another person to replace Kanam. The support of the national leadership, which includes D Raja and Annie Raja, also would be crucial.