CPI(M) likely to miss crowd puller VS

Pandemic and age may force 97-year-old leader to avoid public meetings

Less than a year after the 1957 Assembly election victory in Kerala, the Communist Party of India (CPI) faced a crucial bypoll in the Devikulam seat.

This is likely to be the first Assembly polls without the presence of Velikkakathu Sankaran Achuthanandan, or V.S., the CPI’s then Alappuzha district secretary, who ensured a re-election for the CPI candidate Rosamma Punnoose, and went on to become a campaign mascot of sorts for the Left Democratic Front decades later.

Since 1991, when E.K. Nayanar took over the post of CPI(M) State secretary, Mr. Achuthanandan had been leading the LDF’s election campaign. He had been the party’s Chief Ministerial face as well for long. Emboldened by the thumping victory in the District Council polls, the LDF had decided to dissolve the Assembly in 1991 ahead of its term and called for early elections. The untimely death of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and subsequent sympathy wave helped the United Democratic Front romp home to power that time.

Five years later, though the LDF won the Assembly polls, Mr. Achuthanandan lost to P.J. Francis in his home turf Mararikulam. In 2001, he shifted to Malampuzha and won, but the Front could not come to power. It took another five years for the veteran to get a chance to be the State’s Chief Minister, but not without the unusual drama of denial of ticket, street protests, and the CPI(M)’s volte-face. The LDF led by Mr. Achuthanandan missed a return to power by a narrow margin in the 2011 election. The veteran Marxist had a major role in the Front’s poll victory five years later as well.

What changed in between was Mr. Achuthanandan’s image in the minds of the Malayali. From a hard-liner party boss with a Stalin-styled grip on the CPI(M) in the State, he had a makeover as a crusader against corruption, protector of ecology, guardian of women’s rights, and a champion of the oppressed sections of society. His popularity among the masses and its electoral impact was so much that Mr. Achuthanandan’s photo was a must in the LDF’s campaign material in the past three elections.

This time, however, the pandemic situation and advancing age may force the 97-year-old leader to avoid public meetings. He recently resigned from the post of the head of the Administrative Reforms Commission. Mr. Achuthanandan has also not been active in public life for some time. So, there was no surprise when his name was missing from the candidate list. Now, it remains to be seen if the LDF will make use of his charisma through online platforms.

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