Will he or won’t he? Or rather, will the 92-year-old VS Achuthanandan, former Chief Minister and currently Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, be allowed by the CPI (M) to contest the upcoming Assembly election?

If he is allowed and even wins the election, and if the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front is voted to power, will Achuthanandan be made Chief Minister?

The answer to the first question will probably be available on March 2, when the CPI (M)’s State committee is meeting to determine the contours of the election strategy, and to decide who among the senior leaders of the party should be fielded. The Central leadership, which wants Achuthanandan to be active in the election campaign as in the past, deliberated the issue on Saturday, but has left it to the State committee to take a final call.

Popular leader

Achuthanandan, considered a rebel leader, is said to be keen on contesting. However, the majority ‘official faction’ (also called the Pinarayi Vijayan faction) would like him not to. Achuthanandan, who had initially been denied a party ticket in the 2006 and 2011 Assembly elections by the official faction, is the most popular leader in the party and a proven vote-catcher. In the 2006 and 2011 Assembly elections, as well as the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, his leading role was crucial in the campaigning.

In the local-body election held in October, his forceful defence of the LDF helped to a large extent in plugging the leak of the Ezhava-caste votes to the BJP. In 2006, when the Pinarayi-led State committee had denied him the party ticket, the central leadership, following pressure mounted by the media and party followers, intervened to get Achuthanandan fielded.

To the chagrin of the State party leadership, he got elected, led the LDF to victory, and went on to become Chief Minister.

Pinarayi’s best chance

Because of the Lavalin corruption scandal, Pinarayi Vijayan had not been able to contest the past three Assembly elections. This time, there is no barrier to contesting and Vijayan sees this as his best-ever chance of becoming Chief Minister.

The central leadership of the party, which is aware of Achuthanandan’s mass base and his ability to secure votes for the LDF, reportedly favours his contesting, and his having a crucial role in the campaign. However, it does not want to go totally against the wishes of the State leadership dominated by the Pinarayi faction. At a time when the party has been decimated in West Bengal, Kerala is the CPI (M)’s only hope.

At the same time, the State leadership is also in a dilemma: without Achuthanandan’s mass appeal, campaign skill and capacity to secure votes, it will be really hard for the LDF to win the election. But, if he hogs the limelight and leads the campaign, it would be a barrier to Vijayan’s becoming the Chief Minister in the event of the LDF victory.

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