One of the tallest leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), V S Achuthanandan who often donned the role of a corrective force in Kerala, will turn 100 on Thursday.
A colossus in Kerala’s politics for over seven decades, VS, as his is popularly known, retired from active politics three years ago. He will celebrate his 99th birthday at his son’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram, family members told HT.
In the last two decades of his political journey, VS took on several social issues and fought legal battles against several high profile political leaders — the 1994 palm oil import case against former chief minister K Karunakaran, corruption cases against former power minister R Balakrishna Pillai, the ice cream parlour sex racket of 1990s as well as the 2015 bar bribery case against former minister K M Mani are some of his most high-profile cases.
Those close to VS note that his legal crusades brought him cult status in the state almost eclipsing the CPI(M).
His stand on several social issues often led him to be at odds with the party leadership. Late CPI(M) leader K R Gowri Amma had once remarked that if she were in place of VS, the party would have expelled her “a hundred times”.
Interestingly his rival in the party, now chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, was his aide and helped VS during his infamous ‘Vetti niruthal (annihilation of opponents)’of 1990s. Many leaders, including M V Raghavan and then LDF convenor P V Kunhikannan, were expelled during this time. Soon, Vijayan became the party secretary. But a rift emerged between both leaders sometime in 2000 which plagued the party for almost a decade.
Differences perhaps reached their peak during the Malappuram state conference in 2004 when Vijayan defeated all of VS’s nominees in the state committee.
When VS became the Kerala chief minister in 2006, Vijayan was the party’s state secretary. The next year, the politburo suspended both leaders as the war of words between them heightened.
In 2015, VS was dropped from the party central committee citing his age, but he was made a star campaigner for the 2016 assembly election. Political observers say this was the time VS finally made the way for Vijayan’s rise.
Later that year, VS was appointed as chairman of the Kerala administrative reforms commission, which he quit in 2019 citing ill-health.
Political commentator A Jayashankar said VS’s absence from the state’s politics brought back the leaders that were sidelined.
“He was a correctional force in the party. His absence from active politics is quite visible these days. Many leaders who were sidelined due to their involvement in many deals are back now,” he said.
But some who once supported VS dub him “as a failed leader.”
“In his fight within the party, many stood with him but he disowned them in the last. His post in the administrative commission gave an impression that he was after power. Many leaders fell by wayside after his opponents in the party gained strength,” said poet and writer Umesh Babu, who was once close to the veteran.