VS Achuthanandan: The 92-year-old Campaign Mascot Soldiers on
File photo of CPM leader VS Achuthanandan. (PTI)
After the Kerala Assembly election results on May 19, even as the dust around who will be the next CM refused to settle, a photo of an old man perched on a bench at the Alapuzha railway station in South Kerala was being shared widely on social media by many Keralites. Along with the photo were the words that seem to challenge the perception and debate around strong leaders.
At 92, VS Achuthanandan, the veteran Communist leader who was the face of the 2016 Assembly election campaign in Kerala which gave Left Democratic Front (LDF) a big victory seems to have broken every perception as far as age is concerned.
Even his critics would agree without a doubt that the role played by the 92-year-old VS is as large as his mass base. Travelling the length and breadth of Kerala in the summer heat, VS traversed from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram, covering almost 64 rallies and more than 3000 kms by road.
Why VS clicks
Even today the love and respect showered to VS by youngsters in Kerala is unmatched, evident from the crowd he manages to gather at college functions and rallies across the state. The 'kanne karale V'Se' (You are our eyes and heart VS) slogan makes many wonder about the magnetic pull of the nonagenarian.
Maybe it's his tough stand on people's issues, his effort to be a part of their struggles, or the hardships he faced right from the beginning. After losing his mother at the age of four and his father at the age of 11, VS had to drop out of school after 7th standard and work at his brother's tailoring shop.
Maybe his humble beginnings and how he managed to stick to his ideals throughout his life have helped him in his long and tough political career.
Even after turning 91, VS sat on the road with women tea estate workers of Munnar in September 2015 seeking an increase in bonus and daily wages.
During his tenure as a CM, one of his major initiatives was the action initiated against encroachment on government land in the hill resort and tea plantation town of Munnar. But critics also say that he was a leader who was in love with himself.
With or without VS
The question around LDF's next CM candidate was raised by the Opposition and people all through the 2016 election campaign. As expected, the comrades always evaded the question stating that the party will take a decision post the mandate of the people.
A day after LDF's resounding victory with 91 of the 140 seats came the announcement. Party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said that considering VS's age and physical condition, the decision has been taken to make politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan as the new CM.
Yechury, while showering praises on the veteran VS, compared him to Cuba's legendary leader Fidel Castro and said that he will continue to guide the party. But what Yechury failed to answer was the exact position VS will hold in the party.
All through the press conference, VS who had accompanied Yechury and others, was tight-lipped about the issue.
His close aides claim that VS is not very happy with the decision to make Pinarayi Vijayan the chief minister but had decided that he will not make an issue out of it.
Down but not out
A day after Pinarayi's was chosen as the CM, VS held a press conference and assured the people that he will be their watchdog, intervening in all the issues that matter while upholding values of the party. He also said that people expect the new government to conduct a fair and transparent probe on all the scams including Solar scam, Bar bribery, Pattoor land fraud and the rape and murder of Dalit girl Jisha, reminding the new government of its poll promises and showing everyone whose side he was on.
The clash before the truce
The clash between VS and Pinarayi was well known with both of them indulging in public spats, leading to their suspension in the year 2006. Pinarayi was eventually reinstated, but VS was not, and was even denied a party ticket in 2006 and 2011, leading to widespread protests on streets and social media.
The interference of the central leaders finally led the state leaders to give in to public pressure.
Over the years, Pinarayi has managed to increase his stranglehold within the party and amongst the various committees which was evident through the support he had for the CM's post. With age not on his side, VS too seems to have mellowed down.
The two even decided to bury the hatchet before the elections which seems to have worked for the party.
Only time will tell what fate holds for the only living member (amongst the 32 leaders) who left the CPI to form CPM in 1964.
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