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Kerala minister’s exit for making critical remarks on constitution betrays CPI (M)’s doctrinaire hangover


Thiruvananthapuram: The exit of mid-ranking Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) leader and minister, Saji Cheriyan from the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s cabinet for making disparaging remarks about the Indian Constitution exposes the left party’s doctrinaire hangover, even decades after shedding the revolutionary path for parliamentary system.

Though a wholetime participant in the country’s multi-party electoral system, abiding by all the constitutionally-derived rules and conventions, sections of the party leaders still seem to be not fully cured of the old habit of making dogma-driven rhetorical assertions.

Cheriyan’s critical comments on the constitution, replete with unsavoury expressions, has inflicted a severe damage to the image of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government on the first anniversary of its second coming. It has come at a worst time when the government is already in a damage-control mode over the allegations hurled by an accused in the ‘diplomatic channel’ gold smuggling case.

A Pinaray Vijayan confidante, Cheriyan was compelled to put in his papers on July 6, after finding his continuance in the ministry legally and politically untenable.

On his triumphant return to power for a second innings last year, Vijayan went for a whole set of fresh faces as his party nominees in the cabinet. While doing so, he ensured that all of them are ardent loyalists.

Cheriyan figured prominently among the chosen lot. A party boss from Alappuzha district, 57-year-old Cheriyan was entrusted with the Culture and Fisheries portfolios, both significant in Kerala’s social and political milieu.

The verbal assault of Cheriyan on the constitution at a closed-door meeting of party functionaries at Mallapally in Pathanamthitta district on July 3. The bottom- line of his critique was that the Indian Constitution enables exploitation of the have-nots. He went on to say that it is devoid of original ideas and had heavily borrowed from the western political and legal tomes.

Cheriyan’s homily would have gone largely unnoticed had it not been streamed on social media by over-enthusiastic local party functionaries. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposition was quick to seize on it, demanding Cheriyan’s resignation, or his ouster from the cabinet.  Since the state assembly was in session, the UDF could easily mount a high-octane attack on the government.

Initially, Cheriyan, as suggested by his party, sought to douse the passions by making a statement on the floor of the house, holding that he held the constitution in high esteem and never intended any insult to it. He said his speech was distorted by the media, and misinterpreted by the opposition. It took more than 24 hours for the government to know that it had no option other than to ask Cheriyan to quit.

The legal opinion received by the government was that Cheriyan’s continuance in the cabinet was not only untenable but the ministry as a whole could even invite stinging strictures from judiciary, when the matter goes to court.  The CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury also stepped in, clearly hinting that this was a serious matter for the state leadership to act sternly.

It is ironic that Cheriyan’s uncalled for comments came when the CPI(M) is making a big issue of alleged onslaught on the basic tenets of the constitution by the ‘Sangh Parivar’, since they emerged as a major force in the country.

Discarding its past position that the constitution had only ushered in a system that facilitated exploitation of the working class, the mainstream Left had over the years become ardent converts to the foundational text of the republic. 

On the Republic Day a couple of years back, the party had organised a public reading of the Preamble of the Constitution across Kerala. The programme had brought to street thousands of men and women to express their total faith in the constitution and remain vigilant against the sinister moves to undermine its basic ideals by the ‘Sangh Parivar’ forces.

It was interesting that the Left leaders had never before shown such an open enthusiasm for the constitution.  When the Constitution was adopted seven decades back, the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) did not treat it with reverence. In fact, most Communist leaders then dubbed it as yet another stunt by ‘national bourgeoisie’ to perpetuate their ‘class interests’.

When the country attained freedom in 1947, the Communist Party brazenly refused to share the national enthusiasm. It even gave a call to topple the government through a revolution, which led to the party getting banned for a while. The Communist stalwarts of the time, mostly ‘upper caste’ elites, saw little merit in the Constitution as an institutional framework that would lead the fledgling nation along the egalitarian path.

A reading of the party documents of the time would reveal that neither did the Communist leader show much respect to the main architect of the Constitution Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. The then Communist theorists had held Ambedkar’s republican philosophy as a hindrance to sharpening the class contradictions in the society and harnessing the discontent aroused by the situation to ignite a socialist revolution.

N Muraleedharan
N Muraleedharan
Senior Journalist from Kerala. Worked with leading news agency Press Trust of India. He is regular columnist and writes on politics of Kerala and National Politics.


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