Congress leaders and political analysts had expected Kerala unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to soften its adamant stand on their political line following the humiliating defeat the party suffered in the Assembly election in its citadel in Tripura.
On the contrary, the state unit has toughened its stand on the tactical political line to be adopted by the party for the next three years. The first meeting of the newly elected CPM state committee held in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram on 18 March has endorsed the draft political resolution ruling out any truck with the Congress.
File Image of Prakash Karat. PTI
Poll understanding with the Congress was mooted by party general secretary Sitaram Yechury in his draft resolution presented before the central committee at its meeting in Kolkata in January. The party's highest decision-making body rejected Yechury's line and adopted the alternate resolution moved by former party chief Prakash Karat following a vote.
The document circulated among the state units of the party will come up for voting at the 22nd party congress to be held at Hyderabad in April. The Kerala unit has backed in toto the Karat line viewing the Congress as a party that represents the interests of the bourgeoisie, landlords and imperialistic forces.
Moderates, who opined the need for a review of the stand in the wake of the party's drubbing in Tripura, were silenced by the pro-Karat section pointing out the dismal performance of the Congress not only in Tripura but also in the two recent Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The supporters of the Karat line wondered how the Congress which has been totally decimated in Tripura and which lost its deposit in Gorakhpur and Phulpur could lead the battle against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
CPM veteran and former chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who was among the few leaders who supported Yechury, did not get any backing as his key supporters were removed from the state committee at the election held at the state conference in Thrissur last month.
Political observers believe that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who has gained total control over the party, had kept the Achuthanandan men off the party body because of their allegiance to Yechury. He has also ensured that none of the hard-core supporters of the party chief goes to Hyderabad.
This is to avoid a victory to the Yechury line in the party congress. Jacob George, a keen CPM watcher, said that the chances for a keen fight at the congress were strong since support for Yechury has been swelling at the national level following the Tripura election setback.
He told Firstpost that the attempt by the Kerala unit to write off the Congress citing its poor performance in Tripura and the two Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh may not hold ground since the party had performed well in Gujarat and in most by-elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Jacob feels that the state unit of the party was blindly opposing any alliance with the Congress because of the personal animosity between Pinarayi and Yechury. The chief minister had turned against him after he backed his arch-rival Achuthanandan in many crucial situations.
"Though Pinarayi has cut Achuthanandan and his supports to size, he is still not ready to pardon him for propping up the SNC Lavlin graft case that the former believes had affected his political career to a great extent," says Jacob.
He could become the chief minister only after he approached the court and got a clean chit in the case. But Pinarayi is still not in a comfort zone as the appeal against the high court order filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Supreme Court is still hanging as a Damocles sword over his head.
In fact, his critics believe that Pinarayi had mobilised his entire force to oppose Yechury's pro-Congress line, which in effect tantamount to helping the BJP, because of the pending case being pursued by the central agency. Curiously, when the Karat camp accused him of being pro-Congress, Yechury said he could counter-charge the former as pro-BJP.
Jacob said that a large section of the CPM cadres did not share the stand adopted by the state unit. He said that a large number of the party workers at the grassroots were not confident that the CPM can achieve its objective of defeating the saffron party without pooling all anti-BJP forces.
"Many of the party workers even think that Yechury can become prime minister if the BJP and its allies do not secure the required number of seats to retain power after the election. They see strong chance for the party since many regional parties like the Trinamul Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Janata Dal (Secular) have sharp differences with the Congress," he added.
Jacob believes that the Yechury camp is aware of such a situation emerging after the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Yechury may not like to miss the chance that they lost in 1996 when late Jyoti Basu was offered the post. Basu had later termed the rejection of the offer as a historic blunder.
Yechury or any other leader from the CPM can emerge as a consensus candidate if the party gets around 50 seats. Jacob thinks that Yechury is pleading for an electoral tie-up with the Congress to garner maximum seats so that the party can play a major role in the formation of the government if not head it.
His proposal was defeated at the Kolkata central committee by 24 votes. Barring one, all members from Kerala had voted against the Yechury line. Even though the Tripura contingent had also voted against the line then, many of them have changed their stand following the poll setback.
The Kerala unit is gearing up for a show of strength at the Congress. They have also started the search for a successor to Yechury. According to insiders, the names being considered include politburo members MA Baby and Vrinda Karat.
Jacob feels Yechury may not yield easily. He thinks he will put up a strong fight for the alliance with Congress in the party congress. NP Chekutty, a Kozhikode-based senior journalist, also shares the same view. He feels that the Congress may witness a fierce battle between the two camps.
Chekutty told Firstpost that CPM may even head to a split if the party chief fails to get his line approved at the congress. He, therefore, considers the 22nd Congress in the Telangana capital crucial in the history of the CPM.