CPM faction battles the media in Kerala

BY N P Chekutty| IN Regional Media | 11/07/2007
The confrontation between Mathrubhumi and the CPM is actually an offshoot of the severe group rivalries in the Kerala CPM.

N P Chekkutty

The Editors Guild of India¿s statement this week condemning the threats issued to Mathrubhumi¿s editor K Gopalakrishnan brings to national attention the ongoing  tussles in Kerala between a section  of the ruling politicians and the media. Mathrubhumi, an 82-year-old newspaper launched as part of the national movement by Congress leaders like K Madhavan Nair and K P Kesava Menon in the turbulent days of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921, has been attacked by a section in the ruling CPM and its secretary Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan for the strong criticism the paper raised against them and their policies.

In recent weeks the situation became grave as posters were put up by unknown people in various parts of the State accusing the paper and its editor, threatening to hit back at them and worse, a rural  office of the paper at Perambra, a CPM stronghold in Kozhikode, was burnt down and its local reporter was threatened with dire consequences following a report about the internal squabbles in DYFI, the CPM youth organization.

The situation took a more serious turn when Mathrubhumi exposed some cases of corruption in the party top ranks. Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been recently  suspended from the CPM politburo along with V S Achuthanandan over  internal battles within the Kerala CPM, made a public speech in Kozhikode, the headquarters of Mathrubhumi, where he openly attacked Mr. Gopalakrishnan and the paper using almost abusive language. Following the speech, Mathrubhumi managing director and Member of Parliament from Kozhikode, Mr M P Veerendrakumar, who heads the Janata Dal State unit, which is also a constituent of the ruling LDF in Kerala, complained to the Home Minister about threats to the editor and a police force was deployed in front of the newspapers office. The Opposition members  from the Congress raised questions in the Kerala Assembly about the open threats against the paper and the Home Minister replied that he had received complaints but there appeared to be no serious threat.

The confrontation between Mathrubhumi and the CPM is actually an offshoot of the severe group rivalries in the Kerala CPM. The party in the State is now practically divided into two camps, one led by state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and the other by V S Achuthanandan, chief minister. During the 2006 State Assembly election, the two groups came into direct confrontation as the official group led by Vijayan made every attempt to keep Achuthanandan out of the race.  However Achuthanandan who is a powerful leader in the State, commanding respect even among those outside the party because of his bold initiatives against land mafia, for environmental protection and in defence of the rights  of women and other oppressed sections, made a fight back with his supporters staging  demonstrations in front of the party headquarters in Thiruvananthapruam. It was a unique development in the Communist party as the demonstrations were held by red-flag wielding Communists in full view of the media. Mathrubhumi and most of the other newspapers in Kerala gave full support to Achuthanandan. Finally the CPM central leadership intervened and he was allowed to contest, resulting in a massive victory for the left and he eventually became the chief minister.

In his battles against the party state leadership, Achuthanandan had received the full-throated support form the news media in Kerala. It was a great spectacle, the veteran CPM leader launching a hide-and-seek warfare against his party. On almost every public issue that exercised the Kerala society in the past few years, the party and its topmost leader took diametrically opposite views. The media took advantage of the situation and leaks from those close to the rival leaders were liberally splashed on the front pages. Achuthanandan had a massive edge in media warfare and the state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan accused the media of forming a syndicate against his party. He launched a tirade against many senior mediapersons in Kerala accusing them of indulging in a conspiracy against him.

The facts, however, were the opposite. Vijayan was in the midst of a massive corruption case as the State Accountant General had found that during his tenure as electricity minister the State had lost around Rs. 250 crore in the SNJC Lavalin deal. In spite of every effort by his supporters in the Government to stall an inquiry, the High Court ordered a CBI inquiry into the case. It is possible that the CBI may question him very soon, which may result in a serious setback for his political career.

Then reports came out the case of a bribe of Rs. 1 crore received by a deputy  general manager of Deshabhimani, the official organ of CPM in Kerala, for hushing up a police inquiry into a financial racket. Soon after another exclusive story appeared in Mathrubhumi which exposed the close relationship the party leadership had with a lottery mafia don in Kerala. The report proved with documentary evidence that Deshabhimani had accepted Rs. 2 crore from the mafia don who is now absconding following police cases against him.  The expose was a hard knock for the credibility of the party. The Deshabhimani general manager Mr E P Jayarajan who is a central committee member of the party made an effort to defend the acceptance of money saying it was received against   a legitimate bond issued by the paper. But when questions were raised about the legality of the bond issue, for which the paper had no permission from the Company Law Board, he had to maake a sudden volte face saying it was an advance from the lottery agent who was a regular advertiser. But even this was a very specious argument because it was, for all practical purposes, a bribe offered by a person in hiding, a fugitive from law.

It was then the no holds-barred attack against the media launched, Mathrubhumi being the primary target. But the recent attacks and threats appear to be a counter-productive exercise as an embarrassed central leadership of the CPM is closely watching and the party conferences are fast approaching. For the first time in CPM history, its inner party struggles are now being waged in the full glare of the media. Indeed, the media is now a participant and an interested party too.

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