Kerala\'s \'Comrade VS\' turns 100

Thiruvananthapuram: Veteran communist leader and former chief minister of Kerala Mr V S Achuthanandan turned 100 on Friday.

Achuthanandan is one of the two surviving members of the group of 32 leaders who walked out of the CPI national council in 1964 to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The other leader is 102-year-old N Sankaraiah from Tamil Nadu.

The Marxist veteran has been out of public life for the past five years following a stroke and other age-related health issues. He is confined to his son’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram.

Born in 1923 in Punnapra village of Alappuzha district, Achuthanandan lost his parents by the time he attained the age of 11. After having a brief stint at his brother’s tailoring shop, Achuthanandan joined a coir factory. It was in the early 1940s that he came into contact with the legendary communist leader P Krishna Pillai.

Pillai gauged Achuthanandan’s organisational skills quite early on and drew him to the movement of coir workers and agricultural workers who formed the working class. In no time he led their struggles for better wages and became an eyesore for the landlords and coir company owners.

He was brutally attacked and left to die by the goondas of the landlords. Achuthanandan also faced brutal torture at the hands of the police during the Punnapra Vayalar uprising of peasants and agricultural workers.

After losing his maiden assembly elections in 1965, the working-class leader was elected in 1967 and 1970. More than a parliamentary leader, he was an organisation man who preferred to remain among workers.

His 12-year tenure as the state secretary of the CPI(M) had seen many organisational issues with a powerful CITU group within the CPI(M) emerging as his main rival. The inner party issues led to his defeat from the Mararikulam assembly constituency in 1996 when he was projected as the chief ministerial candidate.

After his defeat, Suseela Gopalan became the front-runner for the post.

However, many say it was due to Achuthanandan’s intervention that E K Nayanar who had not even contested the elections, emerged as a hot contender for the CM post. “VS” as Achuthanandan is popularly known, was not in favour of Suseela who belonged to the CITU group.

In the next elections in 2001, the CPM lost but Achuthanandan won. His new innings as the opposition leader marked a new beginning in his political career.

Achuthanandan took up issues of people, led mass struggles, and fought against sex rackets involving VIPs, liquor mafia and illegal encroachments to emerge as the major voice against injustice in Kerala.

However, despite his huge popularity the state party leadership denied ticket to the 2006 assembly polls. This led to a major protest with party workers coming out on the streets across the state. The central leadership intervened and he was fielded from Malampuzha constituency.

Though the state leadership was not quite keen on making him the chief minister, owing to public pressure and the huge popularity Achuthanadan enjoyed within and outside the party, he was chosen for the top post. But the party deprived him of the coveted home portfolio.

As the chief minister, many believe, he was not given a free hand to rule the state. His office was under the tight control of the party. The veteran defied the leadership and took his course at times.

The famous “Munnar operation” was one of the major decisions taken by Achuthanandan. A task force led by K Suresh Kumar, an IAS officer who was close to the veteran leader, was sent to the hill station. Soon bulldozers arrived in Munnar and demolished huge encroachments on the government land. Hundreds of acres of encroached government land were retrieved.

But the operation touched a raw nerve when the task force targeted the CPI office in Munnar. Owing to pressure from CPI and a powerful section within CPIM(M), VS was forced to call off the Munnar operation.

The Paddy and Wetland Act 2008 was brought during his tenure to safeguard Kerala’s ecology. After his tenure in 2011, owing to his popularity the party again chose him to lead the elections in 2011. He campaigned hard and brought LDF closer to a back-to-back victory with 68. The UDF won with a slender lead of two seats.

After his five-year term as opposition leader between 2011-2016, he remained the most popular face of the CPI(M). In 2016 at the age of 93, the charismatic leader along with Pinarayi Vijayan led the LDF to yet another victory. But with age not on his side, he was conferred with the title of “Kerala’s Fidel Castro” by none other than CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

Achuthanandan was appointed as the chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission, a post he held actively for a couple of years. His health deteriorated with a stroke in 2019 confining him to his son’s residence.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan led the state in felicitating Achuthanandan on his 100th birthday. Several felicitation ceremonies were held by party workers across the state to celebrate one of the tallest leaders of the communist movement - the one and only VS.

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