The Left Democratic Front government headed by Pinarayi Vijayan has reportedly decided to appoint former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan as Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission with Cabinet rank.
A formal order will be issued after the State Assembly passes a law to exempt the proposed post from the definition of office of profit, so as to protect Mr. Achuthanandan’s membership in the house.
It is well-known that the State party leadership did not want Mr. Achuthanandan to contest the election in 2006 but gave in under pressure from the central leadership, which intervened following a public outcry by his supporters. Having failed to stop his entry into the Assembly and election as party leader, the State party placed severe restrictions on him. It made sure that the key portfolios of Home and Vigilance were with ministers of its choice. It intervened in the working of the government from time to time and foiled his initiatives that it did not approve of. The attempt to evict encroachers from Munnar was one of them.
On several occasions, the party’s State Secretary gave written directives to the Chief Minister telling him not to take up certain issues that he wanted to place before the Cabinet. Action in terms of the High Court’s judgment on the administration of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple was one of them.
When a visiting journalist asked Mr. Achuthanandan about the hurdles placed by the party in his way, he said, “I will remain as long as there is hope that something can be done.”
In view of the extremely frustrating experience of 2006-2011, Mr. Achuthanandan should not have entertained hopes of another spell in office. It was no secret that Mr. Vijayan, who had stepped down as State party secretary, was eyeing the Chief Minister’s post and that the State party would solidly back him. Just before the elections, the State committee muddied Mr. Achuthanandan’s chances by virtually branding him as being “anti-party”.
Keen to capitalise on Mr. Achuthanandan’s popular appeal, to ensure victory in the elections, the party’s central leadership decided that he and Mr. Vijayan should both contest the elections. After the elections, it fell in line with the State party’s desire that Mr. Vijayan should lead the new LDF government and decided to compensate Mr. Achuthanandan for the loss of the Chief Minister’s post, which he wanted.
Mr. Achuthanandan, who has been a member of its Central Committee from the inception of the CPI (M) and served on the Politburo for more than two decades before being turned out in 2009 as a disciplinary measure, would probably have been content with the restoration of his status in the party. But the State party is not keen on it. Hence, the attempt to find a sinecure in the government for him.
The idea the party and the government are working on to keep Mr. Achuthanandan occupied – and satisfied – raises some questions.
Is there a need for an Administrative Reforms Commission at this time? Assuming there is a need for it, is Mr. Achuthanandan the best choice to head it? If these questions are answered in the affirmative, some further questions arise.
When a commission is appointed, the government has to set a deadline for it to complete its task and submit its report. The deadline can, of course, be extended if necessary. Will the government extend the commission’s term to cover the entire duration of the Assembly so that Mr. Achuthanandan can enjoy Cabinet rank and the privileges that go with it? Or will the government find another commission to help him retain his Cabinet status?
Any commission set up to accommodate Mr. Achuthanandan will presumably have a few members also. They too will get the benefit of any extension given to Mr. Achuthanandan. Is that a happy state of affairs?
BRP Bhaskar is a senior journalist and human rights activist. He is also a winner of Swadeshabhimani Kesari Award instituted by the Government of Kerala.
Main photograph By Praveenp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons