Thiruvananthapuram: Will Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan be back in the electoral arena as a contestant and leader of CPI(M)-led LDF in the assembly polls just two months away?
This is the most keenly asked question in political circles as the state braces up for polls.
Official explanation of the CPI(M) leadership on the fate of the 87-year-old veteran has so far been that "the party will decide (about it) at the right time."
Until a couple of months back, thinking in the party's state leaders had been that Achuthanandan would not in all probability be a contestant himself but remain as the lead figure in the LDF campaign.
The state party set-up, controlled by its secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, was certain that this line would be approved by the central leadership as well.
But some dramatic developments in recent weeks appear to have brightened chances of Achuthanandan to continue to be the central figure in Kerala's bipolar polity, not just as a team manager of the LDF but as the captain to lead from the front.
The conviction of Kerala Congress(B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai in a graft case, resurfacing of allegations against IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty in connection with "ice cream parlour" sex scam and the attention regained by
palmolein case have made Achuthanandan to assert that his stand on these issues had been vindicated.
As the Opposition leader in 2001-06, Achuthanandan had played a vigorous role in pursuing these cases involving leaders of the Congress-led UDF.
According to political observers here, if these issues are going to be major themes in the LDF campaign, then the presence of Achuthanandan as its main contest would be vital to fully cash in on them.
It is by realising this possibility that the UDF, in a change of strategy, started singling out Achuthanandan for attack by unleashing a raft of allegations against his son V A Arun Kumar.
Earlier, UDF leaders had largely spared Achuthanandan while training their guns mostly at CPI-M leaders like Vijayan.
The final days of the Kerala Assembly had been stormy with Congress's Chief Ministerial contender Oommen Chandy and his colleagues making unsparing efforts to take the Chief Minister to task by alleging that his son had often misused
his father's political clout for securing personal gains.
Arun Kumar, a technocrat and director of state-run Institute of Human Resources Development, has threatened to sue those hurling charges at him. But the UDF leaders have kept up their attack on him.
Though the recent political turns and twists somewhat brightened Achuthanandan's chances of getting back as the pivot in the battle, indications from CPI(M) sources are that the official faction would try their best to avoid such a scenario.
According to party sources, the rectification document adopted by CPI-M central leadership after the Left's sordid performance in 2009 Lok Sabha polls in Kerala insists that a majority of the party's state secretariat members would be
kept out of electoral contest as their services should be utilised on organisational front.
This could mean most of the incumbent CPI(M) ministers would not be fielded for elections. This scenario could be applied in the case of Achuthanandan as well by the party leadership.
Apart from his age, another factor that could prove disadvantageous to Achuthanandan may be that he is not a member of the party's highest body Polit Bureau, from which he was removed about two years back following a grim feud with Vijayan.
However, going by his penchant to fight back, Achuthanandan may not be willing to accept such organisational logics. So far, he had never given any hint of electoral fatigue or that he would opt out of the contest himself.
In 2001 and 2006, he was elected from the Mamapuzha segment in Palakkad district.
In 1996, he was defeated in Mararikkulam, in his home district Alappuzha, though the LDF captured power at the time. His defeat was allegedly the result of the machinations of his rivals within the party then.
In 2006, Achuthanandan was first denied ticket by the party state leadership, despite he proving to be highly successful as opposition leader in the previous five years.
But he upset the calculations of his rivals by getting the decision reversed by demonstrating his popularity and with the support of some party bigwigs of the time like late Jyoti Basu.
His opponents, however, say times have changed since then for Achuthanandan as his grip on the party has loosened much with many of his own camp followers deserting him. In the party polls held two years back, he had lost control over a majority of districts.