Corruption in Kerala CPI(M) – Is it an Aberration?

- V Shankar

A corruption scandal is rocking the CPI(M) in Kerala. The CPI(M)’s Malayalam organ Deshabhimani has accepted two crores of rupees out of total 3.2 crores, popularly known as “bonds”, from a lottery tycoon, S Martin who is accused of illegal operations and faces criminal charges. According to the CPI(M) General Secretary Comrade Prakash Karat, “What the Deshabhimani management did was to invite “special deposits” in lieu of “bonds” which cannot be issued by Deshabhimani as an entity which is not a company. But, the term “bond”, as it is popularly understood, has been used by the Deshabhimani itself.” The blame of the decision to take the fund cannot be put on some individuals or circulation managers as it was approved by the party’s state secretariat itself for ‘expansion and modernization’ of infrastructure of the organ. So, the dispute is not about raising money for the organ or the ‘quantum’ of the funds but its dubious source and, in turn, its policy of not relying on toiling masses for the expenses incurred by the state organ of a communist party. Comrade Karat has rightly pointed out that “whatever be the compulsions of the market and requirements for capital, Deshabhimani cannot become like the bourgeois media or a corporate news paper”. Fine. But, what about the state secretariat that made the decision to take funds from a dubious source? Does it not mean that bourgeois evils and ideological degeneration are entrenched in the party, in the state party at least? Can the prompt return of two crores to the source mean that everything is alright but for some technical arithmetic which can be set right by returning the amount? CPI(M) does not have any reply to this question. The party does not recognize the fact that the real issue goes beyond these two crores: it is the rapidly infecting malady of ideological, political degeneration in the party that has reached even the highest echelons in the state.

The fact is further confirmed by the fact that the Deputy General Manager of the same organ, Comrade Venugopal, has taken one crore rupees as bribe from a private financial institution that was closed a year back for its illegal operations. He has taken the bribe by promising that he would take necessary steps to influence the LDF government to order reopening of the said financial institution. This is only a corollary and extension of the very same degeneration that has inflicted the party beyond repair. It is true that the party has taken action against him and he is kept under suspension. But, this action itself cannot remedy the larger malaise of degeneration. The party is at a loss to explain the larger issue and is trying to close the chapter merely by initiating action against an individual party functionary for taking a bribe of one crore and by absolving the state secretariat that approved two crores for the party organ from a dubious source. Fond recollection of the proletarian communist values of relying on masses for launching the party organ once upon a time, when the party was in its infancy, is completely insufficient to deal with the larger malaise that has inflicted the party. Maybe, this is the social democratic solution by a party of social democracy which has nothing to do with communist principles and values. May be, it is our fault to expect something else from a party that owns a property worth of 4000 crores in a single state, equivalent to that of any bourgeois party!

This is further confirmed by the fact that the translated version of the commentary written by the General Secretary of the party that was carried in the central organ PD indicting the party’s state unit on the issue has been edited by the state organ Deshabhimani. PD carried the commentary with the caption, “Kerala: No Wrongdoing Will Be Tolerated, Attempts to Defame Party Will Fail”. Interestingly, the Deshabhimani, perhaps, did not tolerate the tough comment by the General Secretary and the first part of the caption, “No Wrongdoing Will Be Tolerated” was omitted in its Malayalam version that appeared in Deshabhimani. Even if one argues that the caption is not part of the article as such, they have edited the body of the commentary as well. A portion of the sentence that says “the deposit of funds to the tune of Rs. 2 crores from a lottery operator who is accused of illegal operations and faces criminal charges” is omitted in translation. The party’s West Bengal state unit was cleverer and the state party organ Ganashakti did not carry the piece at all.

Revelation of the scandal in Deshabhimani is next only to the Lavalin scam where the party’s State Secretary and the former Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan is directly involved. He is possibly the only communist leader in the country to face a CBI enquiry. Tomin J Thachankary, Inspector General of Police, was suspended from service in July on charges that he had amassed a wealth of Rs.9.5 million between March 2003 and March 2005 when he was the Managing Director of the state-owned Books and Publication Society. Thachankary is considered to be a close associate of the party’s state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and was closely associated with the establishment of the party sponsored TV channel “Kairali”.

On the other hand, VS.Achuthanandan, the Chief Minister, is trying to maintain high moral grounds by demolishing all encroachments in Munnar while at the same time he is signing the Smart City deal, albeit with some amendments, that he opposed when he was in the opposition. An ADB loan agreement was signed behind his back by his own cabinet colleagues. Unfortunately, it was his very own party which was the major hurdle in the demolition drive because most of the encroachments had the blessings directly or indirectly of many leaders at various levels of the hierarchy in the party. In Kerala press, there are many reports accusing Pinarayi Vijayan backing land sharks and real estate mafia in the state. From common man’s point of view, it is obvious that encroachments of such a large scale and magnitude, of such a blatant violation of laws and for such a long period could not have happened without sufficient backing from higher echelons of all major parties in the state. LDF cannot be an exception to it. Pinarayi Vijayan, in particular, is being accused of maintaining such connections.

Comrade Achuthanandan himself symbolically removed the board of Tata Tea and replaced it with the government one. The Tata management promptly refuted that the company board removed by the CM was only a direction marker (signboard) to a particular estate of the company. When the actual status of the land recovered from the encroachment of Tata Tea was questioned, CPI ministers holding the Forest and Revenue portfolio toed the line of the Tata management and said that the land belonged not to Tata but to the forest department. Finally, the CM himself had to intervene to say that the Forest and Revenue Minister have confused the public. He claimed that out of total 1280 acres recovered in his presence, only 60 acres were identified as forest land while the rest were under the control (irrespective of legal ownership) of the Tatas. The drive was stopped just with a symbolic removal of a board while the Tata is alleged to have encroached more than 58,000 acres of land. It is a long pending dispute that is not clinched in this drive even which is claimed to be the second phase of land reforms (first phase in the 70s) in the state.

According to Percy Siganporia, the Managing Director of Tata Tea, 58,741.82 acres of land that is owned by the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations (KHDP) was awarded to Tata Tea by the Land Board as per the provisions of the Kanan Devan Hills (Resumption of Lands) Act, 1971. But, according to the same act there is an upper limit of 50,000 acres for private landholding which he conveniently missed. The remaining 8000 acres has been a matter of dispute for quite long while the genuineness of 50000 acres of land itself is in question and is considered to be an encroachment. It is another matter whether CPI(M) will be prepared to take the Tatas head on in such a crucial matter of encroachment while thousands of acres of lands are being offered on a platter in West Bengal by Government run by the very same party. It is to be noted that the central leadership of the party has not issued any categorical statement on Munnar demolitions, particularly on the Tata encroachments.

Factionalism in the party is also one major reason for recent revelations of scandals in the party in the state. Each faction is trying to score a point over the other and scandals are coming out in the open one by one.

A case of corruption in a communist party cannot be a reason to indict the whole party. It is not our case that communist parties can be immune to corruption; corruption that pervades society can well seep into the party as well. The question is: what does a communist party do to fight such trends in a principled way, identifying and correcting the roots of such trends. And here one cannot avoid saying that factionalism and corruption in the leading institutions of the party are manifestations of deep-rooted, well-entrenched political and ideological degeneration in the party. To remedy the situation the party would have to look beyond few crores of rupees and some actions against a few leaders. In the case of CPI(M) in Kerala, the roots of corruption are easily traceable to the pro-corporate shift of the party itself.