Credibility of CPM in Kerala

P. Sreekumaran

In politics, timing is as important as perception. If your timing goes awry, you end up paying a heavy penalty in terms of credibility and erosion of ground support. Likewise, it is of utmost importance that you create the right perception among the public at large.  On both counts, the CPM, which heads the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government in Kerala, suffered a loss of face by its clumsy handling of the Law Academy Law College issue.
The CPM has none but itself to blame for the loss of credibility and damage to its reputation. It bungled badly right from the word go.
The students of the Law College had begun an agitation against the negative practices of the college management, especially those of its principal Lekshmi Nair. Their main grouse was against the serious irregularities in the internal m assessment system of the management. With the management refusing to concede the demand of students bodies, AISF and KSU for resignation of Lekshmi Nair, the students intensified the agitation which acquired a political tinge as it progressed. The Students Federation of India (SFI) joined it much later.
The CPM’s basic mistake – a cardinal sin for a communist party – was to create the impression of siding with the law College management. This was unheard of in the history of agitations. Traditionally, the communist parties have always sided with agitators. That itself was bad enough. Worse was that the party tried its best to avert the exit of the controversial principal while other student bodies belonging to the CPI, Congress and the BJP remained firm on her resignation.
The CPM further blotted its copybook by getting its student body, SFI to sign a unilateral agreement with the management which fell far short of the students demands. The agreement was boycotted by AISF, AIYF, KSU and pro-BJP student organization. In the process, the SFI lost its credibility completely and made itself a laughing stock.
The CPM’s main argument in its defence was that the agitation was helping the BJP to gain further strength; and that the CPI and Congress student bodies failed to realize this.
However, subsequent events proved that the party was wrong in its assessment. If the BJP made gains from the agitation, it was simply because of the Government’s failure to end the strike by taking an early decision on the students’ main demand. The delay in taking a decision, of course, helped the BJP to consolidate its gains. It was a classic case of failure in crisis management by the Pinarayi Government.
The final agreement between the students and the management reflected the CPI’s principled stand. The management agreed to remove Lekshmi Nair from the post of principal. It may be mentioned that the earlier accord with the SFI was that she will be kept out only for five years.  It also agreed to name a new principal with requisite qualifications in her place in accordance with the University guidelines. Also, no time limit has been specified for the new principal. If the management goes back on this decision, the government would intervene. The management also agreed to ensure that Lekshmi Nair won’t return even as a faculty member for the next five years. This was to the satisfaction of the other student bodies, and the agitation ended. Classes have resumed on Monday as per the agreement.          
The CPM again exposed its pro-management stance by literally scuttling stringent action against the management. The move for strict action against the Law College management like cancellation of its affiliation was scuttled with the CPM using its majority in the Kerala University Syndicate to thwart the move.
On the other hand, the Revenue Minister, who belongs to the CPI, took steps to control the damage caused by the CPM’s dilly-dallying tactics. What came to the CPI’s help was the demand made by CPM veteran V S Achuthanandan that the department should probe the misuse of government land by the Academy.  Incidentally, the CM had ruled out a probe against the assignment of the land to the Law Academy! A report prepared bythe Revenue Secretary found several irregularities in the use of government land assigned to the academy. The report found that the Law Academy had constructed the main gates on land owned by the Kerala Water Authority. The gates have since been demolished following orders from Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan to the district authorities.
It goes without saying that the decision has gone down well with the people at large; it has also gone a long way in undoing the damage done by the CPM’s pro-management stance in the matter.
Reports attribute the CPM’s pro-management stance to the proximity of the brother of the Law Academy chairman to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Whatever the reason, the CPM has suffered a severe loss of face, and has emerged from the entire episode in poor light. The matter also highlighted the Chief Minister’s inability to manage a crisis by taking timely steps. Both the CPM and the CM would do well to avoid show of such vacillation in future while handling sensitive issues. Failure to do so would cause further erosion of public support to the government. (IPA)

Thursday, 16 February, 2017