Former chief minister V S Achuthanandan was constantly accused by his own party of blocking large-scale private investments that have been given the green signal by the CPM and even the state cabinet. Pinarayi Vijayan has a diametrically opposite approach to governance.
The Left Democratic Front government under Pinarayi Vijayan threw open the doors for private investment and even welcomed multinational monopolies. He built bridges with industrial bigwigs around the world through the Loka Kerala Sabha. He wasn’t bothered by the criticism that the only leftist chief minister of India was taking a rightist stand.
Yet he seems to have fumbled on his promise to keep away any ‘avatar’ on the red carpet rolled out to investors. That has led to an unenviable situation in which fingers are pointed at the state government in the backdrop of an international gold smuggling bust.
Communist governments that came to power in several states in India look up to the policy declaration by the pioneering EMS government as a guiding lamp. EMS was prophetic when he said that the biggest hurdle to good corruption-free governance was the perception that relatives, friends and colleagues of the ruler can get the work done.
Perhaps Pinarayi had the speech in mind when he promised to guard against ‘avatar’ while taking charge as the chief minister. Yet his government is in a soup in the fifth year due to the interventions by a mystery woman named Swapna Suresh.
Communist governments always relied on systematic practices including debates in the highest party forums, threadbare analysis in the cabinet, constant analyses and course corrections. A central committee meeting of the CPM was called exclusively to debate on the propriety of accepting a loan from the Asian Development Bank when Achuthanandan was the chief minister.
The fissures in Kerala’s CPM unit in policy matters forced the party to come up with a party document describing communist governments during the party congress in Coimbatore in 2008. Yet the party’s state secretariat prepared two documents to guide policy when land rights, development and private investment became battlegrounds in the party.
Achuthanandan, however, ignored those documents and sat on the files from the industries and finance departments. Both factions of the party fought it out in the state secretariat every time a policy matter came up for discussion.
Matters changed when the leader of the other faction, Pinarayi, became the chief minister in 2016. There was a barrage of Memorandums of Understanding, contracts, subcontracts and consultancy agreements.
Pinarayi draws his strength from the unquestioned loyalty in the party. He has successfully silenced the faction led by Achuthanandan. The victory cost him dearly but it was a victory nonetheless. The party never gets involved in administrative affairs and the chief minister does not meddle with party affairs. That is an unwritten agreement between Pinarayi and party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
Gone are the days of fierce ideological battles in the state secretariat and the committee. The party forums are only about “reporting” the decisions and getting them vetted. The central leadership is hugely dependent on the Kerala unit since the party is virtually non-existent anywhere else.
As dissent and course corrections became unknown, the party leaders were free to explore the companionship of the rich and foreign entities. Someone associated with the state government was part of a racket which dared to smuggle gold hidden inside a diplomatic package. They might have received patronage from a loyalist of the chief minister.
Will it lead to serious introspection and correction? Let us go back to the words of EMS from 63 years ago: “We can end corruption and injustice and ensure good governance only when we relentlessly fight the evils of society and the administration.”