The martyrdom of Com. T P Chandrasekharan and the future of transformative politics in Keralam

July 7, 2012

July 7, 2012

by Gilbert Sebastian

In this piece, we argue that the brutal murder of Comrade T P Chandrasekharan is, apparently, a reflection of the degeneration of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) in Keralam[1] from its once-held position of the vanguard of the struggling people. Operating on principles of cadre-loyalty and patronage, the party today, has turned against its own initial social base. Further, the murder is also a reflection of the Stalinist organizational methods being followed by the party in the state. It seeks to eliminate dissent by eliminating the dissenters who desert the party. The party finds others operating in its own terrain of class politics threatening, once they gain substantial mass support. Martyrdom brings with it the possibilities of ‘vicarious justice’, effective after death. The ethical world of martyrs like Chandrasekharan extended far beyond their narrow self-identities, their class politics being universalistic, embracing the whole of humanity. We further argue that the political orientation of the V S Achuthanandan faction of the CPI-M is grossly insufficient to provide a much-needed alternative to the existing corrupt and exploitative system. We emphasise the need for a democratic alternative in the state, preferably, outside mainstream politics. The plausible reasons for its non-emergence in the state could be lacunae of leadership, limits of identity-based politics of the deprived, and lack of massline politics by the Maoists who could have provided an alternative discourse of substantive/intersectional class politics.

The murder on 4 May 2012 of Comrade T P Chandrasekahran who had left CPI-M and formed Revolutionary Marxist Party at Onchiyam in Kozhikode district has, to some extent, helped awaken the consciousness of the people of Keralam. All the available evidence points fingers at the CPI-M for this murder although the United Democratic Front (UDF) government led by the Congress party also cannot be absolved of its responsibility of not heeding his request to provide him security after previous attempts on his life. The brutality of this murder with 51 slashes by swords, mostly on the head, is striking. The dividing line within the CPI-M became very clear as the leader of the opposition, V S Achuthanandan (henceforth, referred to as V S) expressed open sympathies for the martyr, whom he called a ‘revolutionary leader’ whereas the state secretary of the party, Pinarayi Vijayan stuck to his stand that Chandrasekahran was a kulamkuthi (‘betrayer’). V S also made veiled references of a plausible split in the party. There has been wide coverage of the murder in the mainstream media unlike in the case of the numerous political murders that have taken place in the state.

i11.jpg

[When a Communist Party loses its politics!]

Translation of the Malayalam words in the cartoon:

News: Hammer, sickle and star tattooed on the murderer’s hand.
Pinarayi Vijayan: Kodi Suni, where has the symbol gone?
Kodi Suni: Here it is, elder brother.

Cartoonist: Gopi Krishna (Source: Mathrubhoomi newspaper, 24 May 2012.)

The Neyyatinkara assembly by-poll held in early June 2012 was keenly contested especially because it involved R. Selvaraj, who had resigned as the CPI-M MLA here after he left the party. This time, he was contesting as a Congress candidate. The election results indicate that the people of Keralam reject the CPI-M’s tactic of bumping off political dissidents. Despite O. Rajagopal, a strong BJP candidate cutting into the traditional vote-bank, primarily of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in a major way, the UDF was able to win by a significant majority. The first ever impressive performance of the BJP is also a warning that the decline of a secular party like the CPI-M, which is by social base, the largest Hindu party in the state may also turn out to benefit the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, in the absence of a secular alternative. Despite the overwhelming dominance of money power and widespread use of communal/ caste cards, I believe, the most democratic aspect of the liberal democracy in India is that it provides an opportunity for common people to reject a candidate or even a political formation in power. The people of Neyyatinkara have exercised this right.

While in CPI-M, Com. T P Chandrasekharan used to be a strong follower of V S Achuthanandan faction of the CPI-M. Apparently, one of the crucial issues which he took up after he left the CPI-M was the issue of land acquisition for road development during the period of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government at the Onchiyam area in Kozhikode district where he lived. He was known to be a sincere leader and had garnered considerable popular support in the area although he was little known outside this district. By eliminating him, as the CPI-M had done in so many cases, especially in Kannur district, the party hoped to expand its support-base. CPI-M has been following its age-old Stalinist tradition of eliminating dissent by eliminating the dissenter. The fate of Chandrasekharan illustrates the plight of political leaders who do not want to be part of the LDF or the UDF. As someone from Kannur told me, ‘The CPI-M people would tell us that if you oppose us, we will thrash you (thachum) and the Congress people tell us that if you oppose us, we’ll get you thrashed by the police.’

i2.jpg

Listen to the words of K K Rema, wife of late T P Chandrasekharan, “The movement which was built up and led by leaders driven by their love for humanity, has happened to come under the stranglehold of a criminalised group of leaders. It is after that that it has become a party which is meant only to kill and to get killed. …. Remember, how many of you have lost a son, a brother, a husband in serving the vested interests of these mafia leaders. How many are suffering in jail having become murderers or as victims? Should this politics of murder continue any further?” (Manushyathvam maravichittillaatha Marxist sakhaakkalkku (For Marxist comrades who have not lost their humanity – Malayalam), Malayala Manorama newspaper, 10 May 2012, Sunday, p. 10, www.manoramaonline.com/news)

As a party vowing allegiance to the tradition of Stalin, CPI-M follows his obnoxious legacy even as it has given up the revolutionary legacy of Stalin which was evident in his leadership in the fight against fascism and building socialism. Stalin had a somewhat monolithic notion of the party. We need to bear in mind the historical context of the Soviet State’s policy of ‘socialist primitive accumulation’, i.e., carrying out industrialisation by extracting surpluses from the peasantry, the uprising of kulaks (affluent farmers) after the revolution, and the contingencies of the anti-fascist war. However, as Tariq Ali (2010: New Left Review, Nov.-Dec.) says, it was something tragic that happened to Communist Parties across the world that they became established mass-based parties in the 1930s and ‘40s during the high tide of Stalinism. The organisational methods they adopted, influenced as they were by Stalinism, stifled dissent and suppressed debate, let alone permit the emergence of political alternatives. In the early Bolshevik party, under the leadership of Lenin, there were different political lines contending with each other and yet the party was united in the goal of the revolution. Mao’s understanding of the party on the other hand, emphasized: “The law of contradiction in all things, i.e., the law of the unity of opposites, is a fundamental law of materialist dialectics.”[2] Mao viewed party itself as developing through contradiction. There could be different political lines in the party and yet there could be a two-line struggle between the principal line and a secondary line opposed to it. The Maoist party in Nepal had followed the path of two-line struggle. In India, Bhagat Singh and his comrades had a vibrant intellectual tradition well before the formation of the Communist party in India in 1925. In Communist parties where there was space for dissent, splits did not occur so often except on the very strategic line of the party. It is sad that with the concept and practice of a monolithic party, splits occur quite frequently in Communist parties today.

The recent decades in Keralam are replete with examples of deserters from the CPI-M having inevitably to face the scourge of violence from the party, whatever might have been the reasons for their exit from the party. Prabhat Patnaik, a long-time associate of the CPI-M, has expressed concern over the rise of what he designated as a ‘Feudal-Stalinist trend’ (Mathrubhoomi newspaper, 18 June 2012). The level of intolerance by the party has reached such an extent that even forwarding an e-mail of the clippings from a Malayalam film, Sandesam, a political satire, along with a photograph of Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, led to the arrest of one Mr. Moitheen on the complaint of Mr. Vijayan himself.[3]

Generations of socialist theoreticians and leaders, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao taught that the cadre-based party and the method of armed struggle (if at all these are used) should subserve the ends of revolutionary class politics which would also not give up on short-term reformist demands of the present. Mao had made it very clear, “Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.”[4] Having given up the end of a Communist revolution, the CPI-M today has control over the means towards it, namely, a cadre-based party which makes it a dangerous force in society.

The martyrdom of Com. Chandrasekharan reminds me of the martyrdom of Com. Chandrasekhar Prasad and Com. Naveen Babu, two martyrs in the Communist movement from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. I do believe that we are indebted to the ultimate sacrifice of these Communist revolutionaries and all those for whom it cost their lives because they sought to ‘change the world’ we live in. Martyrdom can lead to ‘vicarious justice’ i.e., realisation or at least, people being enthused towards the realisation of the social objective that the martyr stood for. This is something that becomes effective after martyrdom. In the Bible, Jesus expressed it this way: “[U]nless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The ethical world of these martyrs expanded beyond their individual selves, their nuclear families, extended families, relatives and friends, and narrow confines of social identities. They were shaken by the injustices to humanity in the world around them. The class politics they fought for was universalistic in its orientation, their identities embracing the whole of humanity. I do believe that if only selfless persons like them become role models of the younger generation, will humanity have a better future.

Speaking of the CPI-M, by now, the leadership of the party has, apparently, given up on any of the remaining dreams of an Indian revolution which stands postponed ad infinitum like Ganesha’s marriage. Following the relative success of mass mobilisation for the implementation of land reforms, throughout the decade of the 1970s, by early 1980s, the divergence in the political orientations between the CPI-M-led front and the Congress-led front narrowed considerably. The only other ambivalent success story was of the People’s Plan Campaign initiated since 1996, operating as it is, within the neo-liberal framework. Today, the dominant faction of the CPI-M led by Pinarayi Vijayan in Keralam, has given up even the social democratic path and now extend dubious support to neo-liberal reforms, China being a role model for it to follow. It may be noted that Mr. Vijayan is an accused in the 374.5 crore rupees SNC Lavalin corruption case in the state. The Pinarayi Vijayan faction commands majority within the party but it is V S Achuthanandan who enjoys wide popular support within the state. The revisionist[5] politics of V.S. is definitely ranged against rampant corruption in the state and the criminalization in a party-without-its-politics but is definitely insufficient to pose a much-needed alternative to the existing system. One could recall the unsympathetic remarks of V S during the Muthanga agitation by landless Adivasis and the Chengara agitation by primarily the landless Dalits in the state.

Talking to a local-level senior party member of the Pinarayi faction of the CPI-M, hailing from a worker background, was enlightening. I asked him, ‘If the party goes against the people, will you stand with the party or with the people?’ When I repeated the question, after a pause, he said, ‘I will stand with the party.’ It was no wonder to me since he and his children have been actively patronized by the party over so many years. All of them got jobs through the party; the party gave them bread and butter. (Incidentally, the party is also a “corporate entity” today, owning several economic enterprises.) Their relationship with the party was in the nature of a patron-client relationship. Communist party is supposed to be the vanguard of the struggling people. When the party degenerates from this position, it turns against its own initial social base. This has happened historically in the Soviet Union and China and has been happening here in front of our eyes. This senior party member was also quite certain that revolution is not going to happen in India. If a Communist party member has certainly given up hopes of the revolution, then, it is a sure indication of what the party has come to be.

One question that arises is: Given the fact that the Congress-led UDF which is on the neo-liberal path cannot constitute a democratic alternative to the CPI-M, why is it that there is no indication of such an alternative emerging in the state whether in mainstream politics or outside of it?

There were occasions in the past when the CPI-M in Keralam came on the verge of a split. M V Raghavan, a militant leader of the CPI-M in Kannur district was expelled from the party in early 1990s. He formed the Communist Marxist Party (CMP) but subsequently, affiliated it to the UDF. As leaked secrets of a cadre-based party would have it, apparently, the reason for his expulsion was that he had, along with E M S Namboodiripad, supported the entry of the Muslim League into the Left Democratic Front. E M S had theorized that with the rise of Hindutva communalism, a party representing the Muslims as a religious minority could be a natural ally of the left, secular forces and therefore the alliance was justified. The proposal was defeated within the CPI-M. E M S made a self-criticism but M V Raghavan stuck to his line and was expelled from the party. The cooperative enterprises that he began in Kannur district, namely, Pariyaram Medical College and the Snake Park at Pappinessery were captured by the CPI-M through Kautilyan tactics backed by the fire power of cadre-force.

Ms. K R Gowriamma, an even more popular senior leader from the backward caste Ezhava background in Alappuzha district, came out of the CPI-M in 1990s. There were ample evidences of gender and caste discrimination that she suffered within the party over so many years. She initiated a party called the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithy (JSS) in 1994 and subsequently affiliated it to the UDF. There was a failed attempt at forming a third front in Keralam drawing inspiration from late Kanshi Ram’s Dalit-Bahujan-Minority front. I had talked to intellectuals associated with this attempt in the state. They said that Gowriamma was not firm in her commitment to the idea of the third front. Another reason they mentioned for its failure was that around a dozen of the local activists of this third front were killed by the CPI-M prior to the elections in 1996.

A question related to the one we discussed before is: Why is it that the CPI-M does not feel the need to eliminate those who leave its fold and join the Congress or the broader political formation, the UDF? The CPI-M is quite at ease in competing with the Congress-led UDF with its right-wing credentials. They feel quite superior and self-righteous in doing this. The UDF does not threaten the system of which CPI-M is a co-beneficiary. Moreover, the support-base of the UDF is also essentially different, drawn especially from Muslim and Christian communities. So the CPI-M is threatened only by those having mass-base or a potential mass-base, operating in their own terrain of class politics. The stints of Keralam with Naxalite politics were rather short-lived whether in late 1960s and 1970s or even in the 1980s. Unilateral emphasis on the military line to the exclusion of the mass line even in the context of the largely capitalist mode of production in Keralam and lack of leadership made Naxalite/Maoist politics hardly threatening to the CPI-M. Otherwise, the substantive/intersectional politics of the Maoists giving primacy to class and relating class to national formations, caste and gender could have provided a credible alternative.

Ethnic identity-based land struggles in the state whether by Adivasis or Dalits did wean away cadres from the CPI-M. But with a pre-ponderent middle class support-base and given the potential limits of identity politics, CPI-M seems to be much less worried. Rashtriya Mahasabha led by Ms. C K Janu and Mr. Geethanandan extended support to the UDF in the Lok Sabha election in 2004 i.e., after the Muthanga firing which took place in early 2003. On the second anniversary of Muthanga firing, Mr. Geethanandan confided to me, ‘Let the civil society in Keralam think why in spite of shooting us dead, we supported the Congress?’ The UDF, even while being a right-wing formation, may be seen as more broad-based and eclectic and may be more welcoming to these new political formations of the deprived. It is worth mentioning in this context that after UDF government came to power in May 2011, evictions have been going on in the state, of land occupations especially by landless Adivasis. It may be recalled that during the largely peaceful land struggle at Chengara plantation in Pathanamthitta district, primarily by a Scheduled Caste majority, the adamant nature of the LDF government under V S himself was quite notable. There was also much violence unleashed against the agitators, especially by CITU, the trade union affiliated to the CPI-M.

M R Murali, a recent deserter from the CPI-M has been able to hold out because apparently, the Janakeeya Vikasana Samiti (JVS) which he leads has the active backing of the Jama’at-e-Islami in the Shornur area of north Keralam. R. Selvaraj, the victorious MLA from Neyyatinkara had a short trek with the JVS but had to join the UDF probably out of fear that his family would be attacked, as he claimed. Notably, however, the voters of Neyyatinkara preferred a deserter from the party, a so-called betrayer rather than the CPI-M’s bona fide candidate!

In West Bengal, the CPI-M and the state government led by the party unleashing a reign of terror in pursuit of land acquisition at Singur since mid-2006 and at Nandigram since early 2007 led to widespread debates and polarisation within civil society. In Nandigram, land was sought to be acquired for the sake of the Salim group linked to the family of the notorious President Suharto in Indonesia who massacred thousands of communists there and at Singur, it was for the sake of Tata, an Indian big capitalist. In the past as well, there have been similar incidents of mass killings in West Bengal while CPI-M led governments were in power. These include the widespread custodial killings of the Naxalites (CPI-ML activists) which happened both during the United Front governments led by the CPI-M during 1967-70 and many more subsequently, especially under the Siddartha Shankar Ray-led government during 1972-77; the firings on Bangladeshi refugees at Marichjhapi in January 1979 where the number of the dead could have been in dozens and could not be ascertained; the massacre of 17 Anand Margis at Bijon Setu in Kolkata in 1982; etc. However, these had not led to any comparable political polarisation in West Bengal. People still had regard for the positive role played by the CPI-M especially in carrying out ‘Operation Barga’, the tenancy reforms which ensured minimum social security in the rural areas. Today, the misdeeds of the CPI-M in West Bengal have antagonized common people to such an extent that many of the party’s activists have become victims of public outrage and many had to leave the party out of sheer fear for their lives.

We need a genuinely people-oriented alternative in Keralam to the status-quoist political formations, the UDF and the LDF, outside this polluted mainstream of politics dominated by money power, muscle power and communal/caste polarisations. This alternative needs to have politics in command over methods of militant struggle, have an appropriate massline politics of ‘learning from the masses and teaching masses’, and needs to intersectionally relate issues of class oppression with oppressions of caste, gender and national dimensions in particular. However, an alternative even within the mainstream politics, in the interim period, should be seen as a welcome sign. Communist parties need to leave behind the obnoxious organisational legacy of Stalinism and return to the vibrant organisational legacy of early Bolshevism, the theory and practice of ‘party as a contradiction’ in Mao’s ideas and to the lively intellectual and activist legacy of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in India itself. As one of my facebook friends wrote, once the assembly by-poll is over, the ruling class politics would move on as usual. It is for us to keep alive the memories of our martyrs and struggle for the just cause they espoused.

(Gilbert Sebastian is a post-doctoral researcher based at Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. The views expressed are personal.)

Notes

[1] We prefer the Malayalam diction ‘Keralam’ in the noun form to the colonial diction, ‘Kerala’. In the adjective form, we retain, ‘Kerala’.

[2] Tse-Tung, Mao 1964: ‘Refutation of the so-called Party of the Entire People’, www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/1964/phnycom2.htm+&cd=9&hl=en&ct=clnk

[3] Philip, Shaju 2010: “Kerala CPM gets a man arrested for an email joke”, Indian Express, 13 Nov. at: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/kerala-cpm-gets-a-man-arrested-for-an-email-joke/710460/

[4] Tse-tung, Mao 1938: ‘Problems of War and Strategy’, Nov. 6, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung at: www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-2/mswv2_12.htm.

[5] Revisionism is the influence of ruling class ideologies, particularly, the bourgeois ideology within the Communist movement.

3 Comments »

3 Responses to “The martyrdom of Com. T P Chandrasekharan and the future of transformative politics in Keralam”

  1. ks Says:
    July 9th, 2012 at 10:04 am

    This article raises some important questions, and is a much needed commentary on the trajectory of the CPIM in Kerala.

  2. J G Says:
    July 12th, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Cleansing is better than leaving. Stay in and fight.And hence Selvaraj is not a role model. it’s not sensible to quit and form small unions which can’t work independent. The way religions have gone too far from their Holy books, CPI-M has gone far from what it should be now. It up held the principle and followed it, later on just spoke about but not in action. Now it can’t be even called so, because it’s lost it’s characteristics. Still lay men are there. So it must be cleansed. In the modern sense it’s a Libiya with some Gaddaffis in it.

  3. Gilbert Sebastian Says:
    July 14th, 2012 at 2:09 am

    I agree that Selvaraj is not a role model and also that the common cadres need to be won over. But a child fallen into a dirty nullah can be cleansed only be taking her out of the nullah. This is a case of an institution itself getting corrupted, not some individuals turning dictatorial. In case of cadre-based parties, especially those following Stalinist organisational methods, trying to cleanse from within does not help because these parties follow standard methods of containing dissenters.

Leave a comment