Alappuzha: As the three-day state conference of the CPI(M) begins here on Thursday, the focus is on who is going to be the next Kerala unit secretary after Pinarayi Vijayan steps down on completion of three consecutive terms in the key post.
According to party sources, the mantle to lead the party in Kerala for the next three years is likely to fall on Politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, considering his seniority, organisational and legislative experience and wide acceptability within and outside the party.
An astute organisational player who has led CPI(M) in the face of grim challenges in recent times, Vijayan has had a firm control on the party structure in the state for the last 16 years, though he did have to often counter the banner of revolt raised by party stalwart and former mentor V S Achuthanandan.
Despite the popularity of the nonagenarian leader and his penchant to bring pressure on rivals by raising issues through the media, Vijayan has withstood many a storm pulling back the party from the brink of fratricidal factionalism.
Though he is stepping down as state secretary, party sources hold that his domination in the state unit will continue as CPI(M)'s Chief Ministerial candidate in the assembly polls due in early rpt 2016 rpt 2016.
Though it is not the practice of CPI(M) to project any particular leader as Chief Ministerial candidate, Vijayan is unlikely to face any challenge next time as the party's leader on the legislative front.
Achuthanandan has made some noises against the way party affairs have been conducted by his bete noire for the last several years. However, the central or state leaderships have declined to take serious note of the "dissenting voice" of Achuthanandan.
As far as Kodiyeri is concerned, a minor hitch for him to become the state secretary is that both he and Vijayan are from the same district, Kannur in north Kerala.
Interestingly, after a gap of 25 years, the party meet is being held in Alappuzha-- the cradle of trade union movement in Kerala and the home district of Achuthanandan.
Party general secretary Prakash Karat will inaugurate the delegates session tomorrow, setting the stage for proceedings for the next three days which will conclude with the election of the new state secretary.