More than the failure of the state leadership, the result was a setback to the AICC itself.
New Delhi: The Congress in Kerala, as elsewhere in the country, is in disarray. Had it not been for the Covid-19 second surge, the bickering within the party would have been more vocal. As usual in times of defeat, leader after leader expressed “shock and dismay” over the setback in the Assembly elections. It is unbelievable that the state leadership totally failed to gauge the mood of the voters since till the very day of the polling most of the leaders had expressed full confidence in returning to power. In hindsight it has become clear that the state leadership was solely relying on the election pattern of four decades whereby the ruling dispensation is voted out every five years. To their utter dismay, voters in Kerala decided to break the jinx and rewrote history. The ruling Left Democratic Front came back to power with a thumping majority of 99 out of the 140 seats in the Assembly. Such was the wave in favour of LDF that CPM alone could gather 67 just three short of halfway through. With the CPI winning 17 seats, the communists are capable of forming a government on their own, once again a first in the state’s political history. The third party in the fray, BJP, forfeited the one seat it had in the previous Assembly.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front, which had in 2019 won a landslide victory in the general elections bagging 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state, was reduced to 41, dropping six seats from the tally last time. Congress could retain its 22 seats while IUML got only 14 seats, four less from 2016. The other constituents could together garner only four seats this time against won by the Kerala Congress (Mani) last time. What was more shocking to the UDF was the fact that the Left Front for the first time had made considerable inroads into the League bastion of Malabar region, north Kerala. It was evident that the UDF was caught napping this time; the leadership soundly resting on the laurels of Lok Sabha victory. Even the alarm bells that rang at the time of the local body elections two months back failed to wake them up.
More than the failure of the state leadership, the result was a setback to the AICC itself. Unlike in the past, the high command directly controlled and oversaw the election work since Rahul Gandhi represents Wayanad in Kerala. That way it was a prestigious election for the scion of the Gandhi family. A battery of AICC leaders had flocked to Kerala, some said migratory birds, screening candidates and overseeing electioneering. For the first time even Priyanka Gandhi Vadra took part in a couple of road shows. The general feeling among Congress leaders and workers alike was that the presence of the Gandhi duo itself was enough to rally support both among the majority and minority communities to see the party romp home easily. Alas! The voters had other things in mind. They preferred to repose faith in Pinarayi Vijayan’s leadership and the social security benefits provided by the Left Front government at times of calamity such as the 2018 deluge and the outbreak of the Nipah virus disease prior to the arrival of Covid-19. Breaking her week-long silence,
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday said the party’s performance was “disappointing” and the party must collectively draw “appropriate lessons from this setback in a spirit of humility and honesty”. Congratulating M.K. Stalin, Mamata Banerjee and Pinarayi Vijayan for their victories, Sonia Gandhi said, “Most unfortunately, our own performance in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala was very disappointing and if I may say, unexpectedly so. The CWC is meeting shortly to review the results.” Rahul Gandhi nor sister Priyanka have come out with a statement. Leaders in Kerala, too, were guarded in their remarks post-election fiasco. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who was specially put in charge of the UDF campaign, while saying it would take some time for the party to analyse the reasons for defeat said, “I am not saying that we have done everything optimally. The UDF and Congress would identify the mistakes and rectify them.” Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly Ramesh Chennithala said the outcome of the polls had caught the UDF by surprise. “We did not foresee failure and expected to form the next government,” he said.
Chennithala said it all, but missed out something. If not “foresee” at least the party could have assessed the mood of the people. It was Chennithala as the opposition leader who had in the last one year or so put the Pinarayi Vijayan government on the defensive on many counts: from hiring a US firm to collect data on corona affected to siphoning of funds meant for a housing project for the poor and finally to the move to hand over fishing rights on the state’s coast to a US multinational company. In each and every move, the government was forced to retract. But Congress and the UDF failed to capitalise on his efforts. Hardly any other leader came in support of Chennithala at the time when he raised the charges against the Left government. After doing all the leg work, the high command conveniently sidestepped him and brought in Oomen Chandy who had nothing to do with affairs in the state for the last four and a half years as the one to lead the front in the election. That move itself had not gone down well with the party rank and file. It is time for the old guard in state Congress to give way to a new crop of leaders. Ramesh Chennithala could be an exception. He deserved something better than this.