Several factors have contributed to ‘insecurity’ of Left as poll date nears.
New Delhi: It seems all the positive results from a barrage of opinion polls, local and national, may not be enough to push the Left Democratic Front through to a consecutive second term in office in Kerala. So one-sided has been all the opinion polls that the Opposition Congress is crying foul, some leaders alleging a ploy to drum up support to Marxist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan while some others are questioning the very need for such surveys. Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullappally Ramachandran has made it clear that he does not believe in opinion polls. No need to ask whether it is for all time! Still, why are Pinarayi and company jittery as the poll date, 6 April, nears? Several factors have contributed to the “insecurity” of the Left Front; the issue of women’s entry into Sabarimala is foremost among them. Sensing that people are not reacting much to the innumerable charges of “misgovernance”, mainly centred round the Chief Minister’s Office, both Congress and BJP had raised the sensitive issue of Sabarimala at the early stages of electioneering itself. Sensing the damage it could do, the Left Front tried to ignore it at the beginning saying BJP was trying to communalise the issue.
But one fine morning CPM’s own Devaswom (affars relating to temples) Minister Kadakampally Surendran did the political hara-kiri. Expressing regrets over the incidents that took place in the state, and Sabarimala in particular, in the wake of the historic Supreme Court judgment in 2018 allowing entry of women of all ages into the hill shrine, Surendran said “It was a strange incident in 2018. Everyone is disappointed over it. We are also disheartened about the Supreme Court verdict and related issues in Sabarimala. But we hope that the public is no more worried about the incident. Whatever be the verdict of the Supreme Court over the women entry in Sabarimala, we will only implement it after holding talks with the believers. We have been repeating this stance,” the Minister said. The very same Surendran in 2018 had said that he would ensure entry of women into the shrine even if “it meant my own death”. He was party to the decision of the Pinarayi government “not to consult anyone” before escorting women of menstruating age into the temple in 2018. Surendran represents the very same party, CPM which in 2018 said that “we would not sacrifice/trade principles for two votes”.
The difference then and now is that Surendran is contesting the Assembly election from a predominantly Hindu dominated constituency, Kazhakkoottam in Thiruvananthapuram district. ‘Principles’ can go to hell! However, the very next day, a red faced Sitram Yechury, general secretary of CPM, said in Delhi that there was “no change in CPM stand on the Sabarimala issue”. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wondered “why Surendran had to make such a statement”.
Till date no one knows what CPM’s stand is on the issue of women’s entry into Sabarimala. Does the party believe in gender equality? Or only erect symbolic Women’s Wall and mouth modern-day renaissance slogans. No one knows. But the Nair Service Society, which ignited the stir against the SC verdict in 2018, much before any political party, has pointed to the Minister that regret won’t do, adding that everybody knows why Surendran had to make such a statement at this time. “If the minister is sincere about his words, he should expedite steps to file a fresh affidavit before the larger bench of the Supreme Court that seeks to ban the entry of women in Sabarimala so as to protect devotees’ right to worship. The issue can’t be settled with a mere expression of regret or remorse,” said NSS General Secretary G. Sukumaran Nair who styles himself as the ‘Pope of Perunna’ (headquarters of the powerful Nair body). Surendran’s electoral fate is more or less sealed with firebrand BJP woman leader Shobha Surendran contesting from Kazhakkoottam.
With barely 10 days left for the election, the Left Front is trying its best to divert voters’ attention from all criticisms against the government by opening another front: portray BJP and the Centre as Kerala’s enemy Number One. In an afterthought act purely aimed at fooling the public, the state government on Friday decided to constitute a judicial inquiry into the inquiries conducted by a host of central investigative agencies in the state for the past 10 months or so. It is yet to be known whether the move has got legal validity especially when an election code of conduct rules is prevalent. But it will definitely help the CPM to create a smokescreen, though the Opposition Congress has been alleging a “tacit understanding” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pinarayi Vijayan. Vijayan is considered a “Modi clone” by many in the state. The party points to CBI’s dilly-dallying in the SNC-Lavalin case involving Pinarayi Vijayan which has now been dragging in the Supreme Court for years. But coming back to current controversy, it was CM Pinarayi Vijayan who had “invited” Customs, ED and NIA to probe the gold smuggling racket, involving former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and the Consulate General of the UAE based in state capital Thiruvananthapuram. While probe into the high-profile gold smuggling case is bogged down with no breakthrough as such, the central agencies have now diverted their attention to allegations of money laundering by a handful of flagship development projects launched by the state government.
What has irked the state government most is ED’s decision to look into the dealings of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), an organisation set up by the Left Front to finance development projects and Life Mission, a highly publicised housing project for the poor. The CBI, though uninvited, is looking into the housing project.
The CPM and the government love to refer to the CBI as “a caged parrot”. At the party level, CPM spends lakhs of public money to ward off CBI investigations into murder cases involving party men. The classic case being the hacking to death of two Youth Congress workers on 17 February 2019 in Kasaragod by some CPM workers.
The state government had refused to heed to the pleas of their parents for a CBI inquiry till such time the SC intervened and directed the CBI to take over the case. However, the Congress has failed to raise issues like that in this election. Nor any political party has raised the issue of “encounters” in which eight so-called Naxalites have been killed in the last four years of a ‘communist’ government’s term. A few of them are still not been identified. So is the issue of the arrest and slapping of UAPA against two students, one of them still languishing in jail.
At the same time this government cries foul at the top of its voice against “stringent laws” (read UAPA) implemented by the Modi government at the Centre.
It is natural that the ruling dispensation in Kerala stands to gain from the lapses of the opposition in this election. It cannot be considered as an endorsement of the policies adopted by the Left Front government in the past five years. That is for certain.