National

Comrade Achuthanandan is 90, but no signs of slowing down

K. P. M. Basheer Kochi | Updated on October 20, 2013 Published on October 20, 2013

Leader of the Opposition V.S.Achuthanandan and his wife Vasumathi at his official residence on Sunday. - Photo:C.Ratheesh kumar   -  Business Line

Comedians love his postures and mannerisms. Short in stature, but head tilted up with a stern and squarish face, his raised shoulders give the upper body a rectangular shape. Mimicry artistes and satirists imitate his mannerisms to great effect.

The most noticed politician in contemporary Kerala, V.S. Achuthanandan – senior CPI(M) leader, former Chief Minister and current Leader of the Opposition – turned 90 on Sunday. The birthday bash, originally planned to be a simple ceremony, turned out to be a huge media event.

‘VS’ marked his birthday with the announcement that he would continue the fight against corruption and injustice. That would include legal battles in the ‘solar energy scandal’ in which Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s personal staff were involved. Though left unsaid, his efforts to expose corruption in the ‘Lavalin scandal’ – in which his main rival in the party, Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI(M) State secretary, is entangled – would continue too.

OLD GUARD

Achuthanandan is one of the oldest surviving members of the Communist movement in Kerala. Born into a poor family of the backward Ezhava caste in Alappuzha district, once the heartland of Communism, he took to organising farmers and coir workers in his teens. He lost his parents earlier on, dropped out of school and worked as a tailor for a short while.

Achuthanandan was a leading figure in the 1946 uprising of Punnapra-Vayalar against C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, the Diwan of the princely state of Travancore. He was cruelly tortured by the police and jailed. The uprising, which saw over 1,000 people dead, is part of the Communist folklore.

When the Communist Party of India split into two in 1964, VS, along with E.M.S. Namboodirippad, A.K. Gopalan and other stalwarts went with the CPI(M). From 1980, he was the State party secretary for 11 years. He was a member of the Politburo, the top decision-making body of the CPI(M), for a quarter century, until ousted a few years ago over his shadowboxing with Pinarayi Vijayan.

From 2006 to 2011, Achuthanandan led the Left Democratic Front government. The Pinarayi Vijayan-headed State party unit had initially denied VS a seat to contest in the 2006 Assembly election. A media-led outcry compelled the party to field Achuthanandan, who bounced back and went on to become Chief Minister.

IMAGE MAKEOVER

Until late 1990s, Achuthanandan had been a typical Communist leader focused on the interests of the party and not much bothered about his media image. He was a mass leader of the party, but not a leader of the masses.

Gradually, he changed his image to project a pro-human-rights, pro-woman, pro-environment campaigner. He also acquired the image of a crusader against corruption and injustice. This made him the darling of the media. Influential aides also helped him get good press.

The CPI(M) in Kerala has for more than a decade been split into the ‘VS fiction’ and the ‘Pinarayi faction.’ While most of the rank and file of the party is with the official faction led by Pinarayi, the mainline media and a large section of Keralites keep a soft corner for Achuthanandandan.

His mass appeal has kept the party from throwing him out despite his openly critical remarks against the party line on several issues, including Pinarayi’s alleged role in the Lavalin case. At critical junctures, he chose to “strategically withdraw to safer locations,” thus avoiding direct confrontation with the party’s top brass.

For his age, Achuthanandan is healthy, alert and his memory is intact. He has a highly disciplined lifestyle. At 90, no one expects Achuthanandan to change his political style or to break away from the party.

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Published on October 20, 2013
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