The many instances of leaders and members of the ruling party in Kerala using their clout to suppress rights, deny justice and protect wrongdoers, as in the Thiruvananthapuram adoption row and the recent Aluva domestic violence death, are symptomatic of an ugly political culture. From the very beginning, the Communist governments in the state were accused of promoting ‘cell rule’, where the party system overshadowed the official state machinery. The party functionaries at different levels were placed on the top and rules of a democratic government were bent to suit their preferences.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, fringe Communist groups that revolted against mainstream parties had warned about the danger of party functionaries gaining the upper hand in a democratic set-up. The mismatch between the basic structure of Communist parties and the democratic system has often been pointed out. The structure, envisaged at a time when the parties were operating from underground and existed as a resistance force, is no longer relevant. This structure seldom allows democratic principles to thrive as everything revolves around the party’s interests.
The CPM leadership, too, is aware of the reality that unchecked interference of the party in day-to-day functioning of the government would invite a West Bengal-like situation. But all the sincere efforts to curtail the clout of party functionaries have come to naught. Officials who resisted party interference are either intimidated or tortured and democratic institutions are made silent witnesses. Rules are liberally flouted to dole out favours to the kith and kin of leaders. Anything that stands in the way of the party’s wish is mercilessly steamrolled.
And the partymen believe that the impressive victory in the Assembly polls is a licence to do all this. The party machinery that has become a parallel government will oppose any attempt to disturb the status quo. The party secretaries at different levels are more powerful than the elected representatives or even ministers. But CM Pinarayi Vijayan, who is also a member of the party Politburo, can bring in lasting changes if he wishes. He is the unquestioned leader in the party and the government. He can show the ‘party bureaucrats’ their place and preserve the democratic spirit in governance. Whether he wants such a change is the million-dollar question.