When a CPM veteran opens up about the party's power struggle

When a CPM veteran opens up about the party's power struggle
(From left) EMS Namboodiripad, V S Achuthanandan, M M Lawrence, K R Gowri.

The 'liberation struggle' that led to the dismissal of the first government of Kerala has come to the forefront of public debate on its 60th anniversary. Though the central government dismissed the EMS Namboodiripad government, the communist leader only added to his reputation in the party and society. Yet he was about to face challengers within his own party at the national level. Probably a section of the party unit in Kerala backed the moves against their leader. What transpired within the secretive organisation has long been a matter of speculation. Sixty years on, we have some confirmation of the manoeuvres thanks to the revelations of party veteran M M Lawrence.

At 90 years, Lawrence is second only to V S Achuthanandan in the CPM in terms of age, experience, positions held and ordeals went through. When he started jotting down parts of his memoirs on Facebook, it started unravelling the hitherto hidden facts about the party's history. He has written about EMS, E K Nayanar, V S Achuthanandan and K R Gowri and in the process shed light on several embarrassing moments in the party.

VS manoeuvres

Lawrence alleges that some leaders of the party tried to oust EMS from the politburo during the party's national congress in Chennai in 1992, when EMS stepped aside as the general secretary in favour of Harkishen Singh Surjeet. Lawrence was a member of the party's central committee then. EMS was portrayed as aged and ill and hence not competent enough to be in the politburo. His name was excluded from the panel of a possible politburo members that came up for the approval of the central committee.

Lawrence said that he joined several others in the central committee to protest the exclusion of EMS. “There was a rift in the party organisation in Kerala and some top leaders suggested that EMS was ready to step aside from his posts. That did not seem very convincing to us. Even the formation of the new politburo was in limbo. Finally, the deadlock was resolved after EMS himself told the central committee that he was willing to remain in the politburo,” Lawrence wrote on Facebook.

Did any leader from Kerala oppose to the demand in the central committee in favour of EMS? Lawrence replied in the affirmative. Did he have Achuthanandan in mind? He would not name anyone.

Significantly, Lawrence did not reject Manorama's speculation that Achuthanandan was one of the leaders who orchestrated the move to topple EMS. More over, in a note on Nayanar, Lawrence went to the extent of describing Achuthanandan's dislike of EMS. The bad blood had its origin from the days of the party state conference in Kozhikode that preceded the Chennai party congress. That conference was a difficult one for Achuthanandan, who lost the post of the party state secretary to Nayanar. “Achuthanandan's term as the party secretary did not go well with some of the top leaders in the party. Many important leaders wanted to drop him as party secretary because of his style of functioning that did not entertain collective decision making. As the party secretary, he expected everyone to listen to him. That was not in real communist spirit. Nayanar won by two votes. Achuthanandan reacted sharply, suggesting that EMS was the reason for his defeat. I knew that EMS was against the ways of Achuthanandan,” Lawrence wrote.

KR Gowri's ouster

Lawrence revealed that K R Gowri, as the industries minister in the Nayanar government of 1987, went ahead with the decision to import cashewnuts overriding the objections of the party state secretariat. He also said that V Viswanatha Menon was the party's original choice to lead the industries department but the leaders had to budge in the face of an uncompromising stand by Gowri. “Gowri Amma said she would take the industries portfolio or nothing.”

Gowri later defied the party diktat and accepted the post of the chairperson of the Alappuzha Development Council to avoid a situation in which the then Karunakaran government could declare a probe into the cashew export under her watch. “Gowri Amma started to defy the party discipline and doing things her way. She would consider anyone who challenged her as her enemies. These tendencies eventually led to her ouster from the party,” Lawrence wrote.

What prompted him to go to town with these unsettling revelations? “I felt that the world should be informed of certain things. I do not think that it is too late to make these revelations. Let those interested in these things analyse these.” he told Malayala Manorama.

Why the choice of social media? “I get instant feedback on social media. My autobiography is in the works,” he said. Lawrence's autobiography covering seven decades of association with the party is guaranteed to be the history of the party with all its rifts. That could offer an opportunity for introspection for party leaders who forever blame the media for any trouble within the party.

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