Cult worship takes root in CPM as chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan grows stronger in Kerala
From mega Thiruvathira to working reports at district conferences, party members spare no effort to hail their leader; analysts say sycophancy is the new norm and ideology has taken a back seat
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Thirteen years ago, on a late February evening, Pinarayi Vijayan, who was the CPM state secretary then, told an audience of over 30,000 people assembled on the Sankhumukham beach here that there wouldn’t be waves in a bucket of water taken from the sea.
"Waves are only created when water is in the sea, when water and the sea are one," he said as a message to then chief minister VS Achuthanandan who was sharing the dais with him.
At that time, VS was being accused, within party circles, of trying to grow bigger than the organisation and create a cult of his own personality, a practice that is not in sync with the ideals of the Communist party.
Last Friday, addressing CPM's Thiruvananthapuram district conference, Chief Minister Pinarayi warned about attempts by leaders to grow their clout using social media. At the party conferences in other districts too, he had warned that the party wouldn’t tolerate attempts by leaders to create fan bases of their own.
On Sunday, the CPM decided to retain the outgoing Thiruvananthapuram district committee with minor changes and re-elected Anavoor Nagappan as the district secretary.
The outgoing district committee was the one which organised the notorious Thiruvathirakali in which 502 women comrades danced to the lines that hailed Pinarayi as the saviour of Kerala on a day when the funeral of slain SFI leader Dheeraj Rajendran was taking place in Kannur.
Nagappan, along with politburo member MA Baby, was in the front row witnessing the dance performance and enjoying every line of the song that went on to the extent of saying that Pinarayi is the one who is responsible for the global reputation of the Communist party!
Apart from a token one-line condemnation by state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, there was no action against any office-bearer for arranging the mega dance show in praise of a proletarian leader, that too in the times of a pandemic.
"What puzzles me more is that there had been several rounds of rehearsal for such an event and nobody in the organising committee found any fault with the lyrics that resembled a devotional song. Even senior leaders who had got enough ideological insight didn’t intervene is a clear indication of the rot in the organisation," said political observer and journalist Pramod Puzhankara.
"Sycophancy has become the norm in the Kerala CPM and this Thiruvathira performance has now exposed that to a larger audience," he said. Another feature noticed inthe district conferences is the lavish praises on the leadership capabilities, will power and quest for development of Pinarayi in the working reports.
Many district conferences also passed resolutions demanding speedy implementation of the controversial SilverLine rail project though there hadn’t been any discussion on the project at any level of the party.
SilverLine is a project close to Pinarayi's heart and that is reason enough for senior leaders to extend blind support. The ongoing district conferences also make it clear that Pinarayi’s grip on the party has grown stronger as each member of the reconstituted committees is loyal to him.
"During the discussions, some peripheral criticisms like the performance of the Pinarayi 2.0 government being not up to the standard set by the Pinarayi 1.0 or how the police were not toying with the party line were levelled. But, nobody uttered a word against the minister (Pinarayi) who leads the police," said a CPM leader on condition of anonymity.
"When someone points out the growing culture of hero worship in the party, the answer is that the practice of worshiping leaders had been there since the times of AKG and EMS. They also remind us about the huge fan following for VS," said political observer and writer Azad Malayattil.
While masses organically transformed as follower groups for leaders like AKG, P Krishna Pillai and VS, the formation of follower groups for Pinarayi was through a structured pattern. From 2014, while it was almost clear that Pinarayi, who had relinquished the office of the state secretary would then eye the chief minister's office, there were attempts to position him as a bold leader who had the right vision for Kerala.
The 2018 flood and his interventions to realise big-ticket projects like GAIL pipeline and NH development solidified the image. 'Captain' soon became the adjective for comrade Pinarayi.
"The ideology has taken a back seat. You have to trust the leader is the narrative that is slowly being built up by the party committees. The leader is the solution for all your problems. Like Noah's ark, we now have the captain's team; join and mark yourself safe is the narrative. It will lead to intellectual anarchy and the party’s ideological foundation will be shaken," said a Left intellectual who preferred anonymity.
The cadre who find no fault in worshipping a leader by ignoring the ideology will be the easy target for another group with a stronger leader, cautioned Pramod Puzhankara. "When the party lost power in Bengal, cadre flowed freely to the BJP camp. That is the issue when factors beyond ideology are used to mobilise support," he said.
However, CPM continues to be strict on attempts to create cult following by other leaders. In 2017, P Jayarajan was censured by the CPM state committee after his followers launched a video glorifying him. He was later removed as the Kannur district secretary.
In his writings, historian Ramachandra Guha traced the origin of ‘cult of personality’ in the Communist movement to the period of Joseph Stalin who had ruled the USSR for over three decades. Later, Mao Zedong in China, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela had enjoyed cult status.
The strongest critics of the same are also from Communist movements. Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin in the USSR, had taken a critical look of the personality cult built around Stalin.
Years before, BR Ambedkar had cautioned us against hero worship in politics. "Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship," he had famously said.