V S Achuthanandan: A Tale of Resilience and Factional Feuds

One of the brightest stars in the socio-political space for decades, Velikkakathu Sankaran Achuthanandan, popular as VS, has continued to shine long past the twilight years of his career. On Friday, he turned 100. Achuthanandan, who served as Kerala’s Chief Minister from 2006 to 2011, is now in the twilight of his life, battling age-related ailments and taking rest at his son’s house in Thiruvananthapuram.

In many ways, the influence wielded by VS in the CPM has its intrinsic roots in the quirkiness of modern-day factionalism. Despite challenging the official stance on numerous occasions, be it his decision to contest against E K Nayanar in 1991, visiting the family of slain RMP leader T P Chandrasekharan, taking up the SNC-Lavalin case, or walking out of the Alappuzha conference, the party never gave up on VS.


On the other hand, VS has become synonymous with the party’s revolutionary struggle, especially after his careful reinvention as a mass leader. It was evident that the ‘7th class pass’ leader was able to fill the political vacuum created by EMS Namboodiripad in Kerala politics. Initiated into the movement by P Krishnapillai, VS began his political life as a trade unionist, organizing agricultural workers at Kuttanadu. He played a pivotal role in land struggles in the 70s, with factional feuds in the CPM solidifying his position in state politics. It all began at the 1985 Ernakulam conference, which led to the ouster of MV Raghavan, whose alternative document had created ripples in the Left.

A silent coup by VS, with blessings from EMS, led to the CPM’s most popular Kannur leader walking out.

The 1988 Alappuhza conference, where VS was re-elected as state secretary, once again showcased his strength. However, the 1991 Kozhikode conference was the pinnacle of factionalism, when VS lost to Nayanar by a mere two votes as state secretary. Despite an internal decision that those in party organization should move to Parliamentary roles and vice versa, VS chose to contest as secretary and lost. Yet the party chose him as the Leader of the Opposition. The 1995 Kollam conference saw a downslide for the VS faction, as most of his candidates to the state committee faced defeat. The resentment that began here was what led to the historic Vettinirathal episode in CPM at its Palakkad conference in 1998. Staging his biggest comeback ever, VS single-handedly eliminated the CITU lobby in the CPM.


The feud between VS and Pinarayi – the most bitter in the CPM – began with the 2002 Kannur conference and continued through the 2005 Malappuram conference. During the fight, the masses chose to stand with VS. In 2006, the party was forced to correct its stance after denying him a seat to contest. The fight continued through his chief ministerial term and led to his demotion from the politburo. As Chief Minister, he led the historic Munnar eviction drive against illegal encroachments despite opposition from within his cabinet. His chief ministerial tenure was marked with political ups and downs, with a rigid party machinery under Pinarayi exercising an iron-clad grip on VS.

The factional feud continued through the 2008 Kottayam conference and the 2012 Thiruvananthapuram conference. The conflict climaxed at the 2015 Alappuzha conference, where VS walked out after being termed a renegade with an anti-party mindset – a move that would have undoubtedly destroyed any other comrade, but VS!


But VS rose like a Phoenix as he piloted the Left charge in the Kerala assembly against the Bar bribery scam accused KM Mani during his budget presentation on March 13, 2015. In contemporary CPM politics, VS remains the Communist Party’s most popular face in the state, evoking genuine affection among the masses right down to the grassroots levels. The campaigns that he chose to take up during the 90s, after a deliberate makeover, transformed him into a true mass leader. Except for a few aberrations like the 1998 tussle with CITU, VS was always the first to take up the common man’s concerns on a public platform.


Right from Mullaperiyar to Mathikettan, Endosulphan to Kudankulam, women’s safety to free software, VS remained the lone hope of the struggling masses. He strove against the system, fought with his own party and comrades, and led solitary strikes, becoming the voice of the unheard and standing rock solid with the masses.

In the course of these, he chose to take head-on powerful political opponents like PK Kunhalikkutty, R Balakrishna Pillai, and Vellappally Natesan, further cementing his image as a mass hero. Though VS too may have nurtured political ambitions of sorts, he never did subjugate himself into silence. Maybe that’s what makes him the true blood comrade that he has always been for the past century. A rare feat indeed!


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