INTERVIEW | ‘Once out of touch with people, you can’t survive’: CPM leader Sudhakaran

Sudhakaran speaks to TNIE about the recent elections, setbacks, his creative side, and his analysis of national politics.
CPM leader G Sudhakaran
CPM leader G SudhakaranExpress | TP Sooraj

Veteran CPM leader G Sudhakaran, the founding president of SFI in Kerala, has always been an enigmatic figure in state politics even while speaking his mind. He has steered clear of showing allegiance to any particular faction and remained a loyal party worker throughout. He is also a rarity in public life, having declined several nominations to the CPM state secretariat. A three-time MLA, two-time minister, and former state committee member of the party, Sudhakaran speaks to TNIE about the recent elections, setbacks, his creative side, and his analysis of national politics.


LDF secured only one seat in the Lok Sabha polls. What has led to this poor performance?

We got one seat, like in 2019. But we received fewer votes compared to the last election. Even UDF’s vote share is low. While securing seats is important, the vote share is crucial as it reflects the people’s support for each party. Unexpectedly, the BJP managed to garner more votes. The reasons may not be singular, rather a socio-economic process contributing to political effects. These factors are interconnected. By analysing the reasons and finding appropriate solutions, I believe we can reverse these changes. More than losing seats, the decline in vote share in Alappuzha is a major concern.

The party considered you for the Alappuzha seat. Do you think the result would have been different had you contested?

In April itself, when district secretary Nasar discussed with me, I had made it clear that I’m not interested. I suggested the name of Thomas Isaac. He was fielded in Pathanamthitta. By the way, I don’t think Arif was a wrong choice. Last time, he polled a majority of the Hindu, Christian, Ezhava and Nair votes. Since he was the only sitting MP, keeping him away would have led to criticism or even vote loss. This time, it was a general trend. Even a candidate like K Radhakrishnan, despite his clean image, didn’t get a huge majority.

What’s the primary reason for the increase in BJP’s vote share in Kerala?

One of the main reasons is the decline in Congress’s vote share. Additionally, some voters who previously supported the Left but were not party members, have switched sides. This change was not anticipated by the Left parties. This situation has happened before; in 1977, we lost badly when we thought we would win more seats.

This election, the party didn’t focus on development politics and welfare, but on CAA. Was that a wrong move?

We have discussed CAA and Palestine in the past. How can we ignore such topics? If we don’t discuss these topics, where is our international outlook? Marx emphasised that we are not just nationalists but internationalists too. Revolution is an international process, though it can happen in a particular country as well. How does standing up for Muslims become communalism? Some intellectuals wrongly accuse us of trying to please Muslims.

Did the BJP campaign that CPM indulges in Muslim appeasement influence Hindu and Christian voters?

It’s a campaign by Hindu communalists against the minorities. They have always done this. Now it has become stronger. It’s part of an attempt to put people in the Muslim community in a spot. It cannot be allowed. It’s a declared position of the party. Irrespective of the minority community, they should be protected from communal activities indulged in by prominent communities. A majority of those in the Hindu community are not communal. Had they (BJP) polled the majority of Hindu votes, the scenario would have been different.

CPM leader G Sudhakaran
CPM leader G Sudhakaran(Photo | T P Sooraj, EPS)

Even SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan said something on such minority appeasement...

That’s different. He’s neither BJP nor RSS. He’ll never be part of them. There’s nothing new in his criticism. He will never act against the interests of the Communist Party. His criticism is aimed at rejuvenating the Left.

Going by the poll results, the Ezhava community, which used to remain with the Left, seems to be having a rethink? Even Vellappally’s son is with the NDA...

The Ezhava community hasn’t changed en bloc. In some constituencies, they (BJP) got some votes. If everyone in the Ezhava community listens to Vellappally’s son, BDJS would be ruling the state now. We need to look at all aspects. Mao has said that communists are like fish in the water. We should remain with the masses. Once you are out of touch with people, then you can’t survive. We need to apprise the cadre of the same. There’s no point in going for disciplinary actions. Actions are taken for grave mistakes. Corrections are what’s required. I believe it is possible.

There are corruption allegations against the Pinarayi government now. Isn’t the party on the back foot facing these allegations?

None of the allegations have any evidence. No legal proceeding has been initiated. I didn’t see the party facing any issues over that. The party has given a proper explanation regarding the allegations.

Is it time for the party to do some introspection? What went wrong for the party?

State secretary M V Govindan has already said there’s need for introspection. Discussions should be held. I don’t think the party made any lapses in planning and programme. There’s nothing wrong with the party’s decisions. When it comes to implementation, our system at the lower level is not theoretically equipped enough. We just need to correct it by augmenting the same.

Do you think CPM is facing an erosion of ideology in the absence of leaders like EMS and AKG who studied issues and provided proper explanations and solutions?

Govindan recently pointed out that there is a shrinking of theoretical and ideological knowledge among party workers, affecting everyone in the party. This needs to be addressed and party workers need to be educated about it. As for leaders like EMS and AKG, such leaders emerge through experience. It’s unrealistic to expect a leader to possess all knowledge from the outset. When the younger generation engages more in politics, capable leaders will naturally emerge. While there are individuals within the party, there is also a shortage of true leaders. Resolving these issues is inherent to the party’s mission, and I believe it will be addressed.

It is intriguing why a senior leader like you were never included in the state secretariat...

That’s because I wasn’t interested. The party did nominate me three times to the secretariat. I was never after recognition. Even then I was appointed minister twice.

CPM leader G Sudhakaran
CPM leader G Sudhakaran(Photo | T P Sooraj, EPS)

Did you feel disappointed when the party denied you permission to contest the 2021 election?

Why should I feel dejected? Had I not proposed H Salam’s name in the secretariat, he would never have got the candidature. I recommended him recognising his service to the party. I had informed my family members in 2020 itself that I will not be contesting the election. Later, the party decided to implement the two-term policy. Next time, it will be a single term.

After the 2021 assembly poll, a complaint came up against you...

There are people who engage others to tarnish my image by making allegations on social media. These are fake accounts. This is done by some people in Alappuzha, and I know them. The public knows them but I am not keen to expose them. I have never named anyone. I was instrumental in the victory of the person who represents Ambalapuzha constituency. I have worked there for more than 60 years and no one else has won the constituency with a bigger margin. H Salam, who was only a party member, won by 11,000 votes in a constituency where VS was defeated by 5,000 votes. After winning the election, he submitted a complaint to the state committee denigrating me. That pained me. It has been three years and I have never responded to the allegations. After the party reprimanded me, Pinarayi Vijayan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked me why he made a complaint after winning the poll. I replied I had no idea. The allegation was probed by a party commission led by Elamaram Kareem, who was once my cabinet colleague. The probe was not carried out sincerely or honestly. He should never have given such a report against a sincere party worker like me. He admonished party members who reported that it was I who nurtured the party in Alappuzha after VS. This is the first time I am revealing the incident. Now, he has lost the Lok Sabha election in Kozhikode by a margin of 1.5 lakh votes. What is the reason for the loss? The margin was 85,000 in the previous election. Should we not probe the erosion of votes? It is simple... the people did not vote. It happens. I won by a margin of 23,000 votes in Ambalapuzha on the third occasion. The margin grew gradually.

VS brought you into the CPM leadership. Can you explain your relationship with him?

VS played a pivotal role in guiding me into the CPM leadership. Initially, it was C H Kanaran who influenced me. VS was closely associated with Kanaran; he served as his right-hand man and became the state secretary in 1964. VS encouraged me, recognising my fighting spirit. In 1982, VS officiated my marriage, which was a party wedding.

VS faced the most disciplinary action in CPM history. He faced party action 10 times. You sometimes stood alongside him and sometimes stayed away. Why?

Yes, my stance has always been guided by the party’s official policies, and this approach has been vindicated over time. I come from an ordinary family. It was the recognition of my service by the party leadership and ordinary workers that propelled me forward.

How did the absence of VS affect Left politics?

We truly feel the void left by VS. Currently, there is no one like him who can vehemently speak out against communalism. His voice and style of speech were unique and strong. No one can replace him.

Many feel the party did not do justice to Gowri Amma. There was a belief she would become CPM’s leader in 1987, but it didn’t happen. What’s your perspective?

There was indeed a strong belief that Gowri Amma would become the chief minister, but that sentiment has faded over time. However, I do not take a stand on this matter personally as we all respect the decisions of the party. In my opinion, she was deserving of the chief minister post. Nonetheless, the party chose someone with greater intellectual and ideological qualifications and seniority for that role. Back then, there was a need for a prominent theoretical and intellectual face on the national stage due to frequent confrontations with the Centre. Gowri Amma did hold significant ministerial portfolios, in 1957, 1967 and 1980. If she had remained in the party, she would most likely have become a minister again. Her stature remains unmatched, and no one can truly replace Gowri Amma.

What happened in 1996? While Susheela Gopalan was an elected member, the party granted the chief minister post to E K Nayanar, who did not contest that election.

Nayanar was the right choice at that time. There’s no need to review that decision now. VS was intentionally defeated, which led to disciplinary actions against those responsible. Despite the setback, VS did not retreat.

Has the party ever considered K K Shailaja for the chief minister’s post?

The party has never discussed the candidacy of K K Shailaja for the chief minister’s post. Such discussions have been created by the media. It is widely understood, even among children, that with a leader like Pinarayi in place, no other person is considered for the chief minister’s post. Any other speculation in this regard is irrelevant.

Your past statement on women’s entry into Sabarimala was widely discussed. You said the restriction on women’s entry is part of a custom that should not be changed...

The restriction continues and I believe it should remain as it is. However, it is not a priority issue. During my time as devaswom minister, another significant issue arose regarding the claim over the gold treasures of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Officials of the temple had filed a memorandum to the government. I took a stand against it and refused to intervene. According to the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institution Act, the government does not have the right to claim the wealth of the temple. This applies not only to the Padmanabhaswamy temple but also to the wealth of any temple under the Devaswom Board. There is no legal provision allowing the government to claim such wealth. Instead, the government provides funds to Devaswom temples. The claims made by BJP that temple wealth contributes to the government’s exchequer are baseless lies.

Your brother was killed in one of the first instances of student politics violence in Kerala. Campus violence over politics is on the rise. Can CPM play an active role in ending it?

Yes, steps must be taken to end violence over campus politics. Campus issues should not escalate to such tragic ends where lives are lost. My brother, G Bhuvaneswaran, was brutally killed inside the mathematics department office on December 7, 1977. He was only 18, a second year BA Economics student at the NSS College in Pandalam.

Your statement on Narendra Modi, that there is no corruption, has been trending...

My statement was that he was not being accused of corruption the way Congress leaders were. During this election, Modi’s corruption was not a topic of discussion. Was there any campaign to end Modi’s corruption? There weren’t any. Earlier, CPM’s Jyotirmoy Basu would expose all the corruption of the rightist leaders in the assembly. Leaders were scared of him. Do we have anyone like him today? It is obvious that Modi too has corruption, but unfortunately, it is not being widely discussed in the country.

Thomas Isaac and you rose to prominence together from Alappuzha. Was there friction between you two?

No, there wasn’t any. Though we had differences of opinion on some government decisions, there were no personal grudges.

When the party came to power a second time, there was an allegation that the party kept senior leaders aside...

Those who had completed two terms were removed. It is the party’s decision.

Before the LS election, the LDF convener met a BJP leader...

I have nothing to say about that. CM Pinarayi Vijayan has said that there is nothing wrong with anyone meeting a BJP leader.

Do you think LDF is interested in Muslim League joining it?

The League should not join the Left front when UDF is weak. If they want to join, I cannot stop them. Such a perspective is wrong. It is good if people join LDF for their ideologies and convictions. Whether the Left is in power or in opposition, it stands for certain values. Unfortunately, people are not realising this. The priority should not be power.

Do you think Kerala Congress joining LDF has benefited the Left?

They say it has, and we won several seats in the assembly elections. That was their argument.

In the CPM, is there a Kannur lobby and an Alappuzha lobby?

No. It’s just a media creation. Most of the state secretaries are from Kannur, and now the CM is also from Kannur. The media has misinterpreted this as the existence of a Kannur lobby. It might be that the most efficient candidates for the office of state secretary are from Kannur.

Is there a possibility of a woman party secretary?

Definitely. But there is no specific reservation for women in any party. In the CPM, leadership quality is the prime criterion for becoming the party secretary. Theoretical, ideological, intellectual, political, and legacy qualities are also considered.

Why can’t CPM, which always speaks about revolution, select a party secretary from scheduled tribes or castes?

Representation from dalits and tribals is good if they have the requisite qualities. The central committee takes such decisions, I cannot comment on it.

Did M V Raghavan and Gowri Amma’s departure from the party make any changes to the party?

MVR’s departure didn’t have a significant impact in Alappuzha. However, Gowri Amma’s departure caused some displeasure because she was a very effective campaigner.

There were also rumours that V S Achuthanandan would leave the party, but that never happened...

VS never considered leaving the party, and he never will. That’s VS.

How do you manage to write poems while remaining active in politics?

It’s not a difficult task for me. I never sought publicity or awards as a poet. I started writing during my school days but was initially shy about showing my writings to others. I began writing poetry actively after 2001. Sometimes, I stay up until 3am to write poems. When an idea strikes me, I jot it down and later develop it into a poem. I believe poems are creations that touch readers’ hearts and stay in their minds for a long time.

TNIE team: Anil S, Manoj Viswanathan, Rajesh Ravi, Kiran Prakash & Arun M.

T P Sooraj (photos),

Harikrishna B (video)

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