It could have been a day resplendent in a revolutionary haze in Thirvananthapuram, but as the hard-line Marxist veteran V.S. Achuthanandan assumed office along with 18 Ministers, the festive spirit was marred by inner-party dissension on the allocation of portfolios. And to top it all, none of the prominent faces of the Left in New Delhi were present. So, for the Left, the day belonged clearly to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Calcutta who stole the show as Tata Sons chief Ratan Tata flew in to commit Rs 1,000-crore investment in the ambitious Rs one-lakh-a-car project.
At his maiden press conference after taking over, Achuthanandan, on the other hand, vowed to punish the different mafia elements, sex racketeers and plunderers of natural wealth. He also announced the waiver of loans availed of by indebted farmers who had committed suicide. He would clear all welfare pension arrears, he said, but in IT all that he promised was 5,000 jobs in one year.
As days go by the comparisons would become starker between the two CPM-led governments in Kerala and West Bengal and between Achuthanandan and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. But the Kerala veteran’s greatest constraint would be the factional pulls from within the party. It’s been the first time in the past more than two decades that the Chief Minister has been deprived of the crucial Home portfolio. He has been left only with General Administration and a few insignificant portfolios. His Cabinet sessions would be the most eventful with an array of the rival CPM Ministers holding the plum portfolios of Home, Finance, Education, Health, Industry, IT and Tourism virtually taking him on the minutiae of governance.
Rival camp strongman Kodiyeri Balakrishnan controls Home and Tourism. It’s been reported that the Achuthanandan camp had already shot off its protest letter to the party leadership in New Delhi against the short shrift in the portfolio allocation. His men end up with Fisheries, Law and Labor. But, on its part, the Achuthanandan camp denies having sent any such protest fax.
This was the first time that so many youngsters had turned up for the swearing-in, which was only fitting in the afterglow of the spate of crusades undertaken by Achuthanandan during the past five years and his final act of compelling the CPM politburo to reverse its decision and grant him an Assembly ticket and then to make him the Chief Minister.
Talking of youth, barring three ministers, all the rest are new to the Cabinet. Call it a GenNext Cabinet. The average age of the cabinet ministers is 57 years. The youngest is JD(S)’s Mathew T.Thomas, 42 years, and the oldest is Achuthanandan. The lone woman Minister is CPM leader P.K.Sreemathy, 57, who holds charge of Health and Social Welfare.
Interestingly, voices of dissent had come from the CM supporters and the CPM allies, who have got a foretaste of the CPM style of functioning in the portfolio allocation. None of the leaders of the Left parties in New Delhi was present at the swearing-in as most of them were reportedly in Calcutta to attend the swearing in of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
If coalition governance and running a ministry has to do with responding to aspirations of different sections of society, Achuthananandan would have to go out of the way to win the confidence of different communities. In spite of the Muslim and Christian communities having gravitated towards the Left in the elections, the new Cabinet has just two Muslims in the Cabinet. Christians fare better with four ministers.
Granted that the Left coalition is unlike the Congress-led United Democratic Front in handling different social pressure groups. But this can be countered only by actual performance - so manifestly absent in the past.
Achuthanandan would have to find better ways of utilizing the nearly Rs 30,000 crore NRI deposits in commercial banks, create more IT jobs, spruce up Tourism, lay better infrastructure facilities and at the same time keep the poor in good humor. Outgoing Chief Minister Oommen Chandy tried this, but voters threw him out.
In the case of Achuthanandan, with a hostile faction around, his only option would be to break the conventional confines of the party and appeal directly to the masses. As the Chief Minister he can do this without inviting the party wrath.