CM Vijayan’s bid to consolidate the Christian vote may help the BJP get Hindu votes.
New Delhi: Strange are the ways of politics. And in that Kerala turns out to be unique. Look at this scenario: The ruling CPM, for all practical purposes a specimen confined only to this part of the country, will be fighting against the Congress for its very survival in the state Assembly elections scheduled for May this year. In a state where the BJP is slowly taking roots, but not yet a presence to overturn the 50 odd year old bipolar politics, the CPM is trying everything possible to make Kerala “Congress mukth” even if it is at the cost of the growth of the Hindutva party. Things are such that many in the BJP ardently believe that CPM strongman Pinarayi Vijayan is the one who could bring “prosperity” to the party in the state. Many of its leaders confide in private that they do pray to God for the return of Pinarayi to power. However, in distant Bengal, where once the CPM ruled the roost for 34 unhindered years, the party has joined hands with the very same Congress to counter “Hindutva BJP”. There the ruling Trinamool Congress is only enemy No 2. Right now CPM has not a single Member of Parliament from Bengal. Of the 32 MLAs the party had in 2016, most of them had gone to BJP or Trinamool. So the party is preparing for the Assembly elections there; Bengal, too, goes to the polls in May, with Congress by its side on a clean slate. Believe it or not, Congress and CPM are even planning a joint rally at, of all places, the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata. That doesn’t deter Pinarayi Vijayan and his band of “Kannur communists” (though this is now modified as Pinarayi communism) to perform the last rites of Congress in Kerala. In any way, when did Kerala and Bengal comrades see eye to eye on anything?
In its bid to isolate the Congress-led United Democratic Front, and in the wake of Hindu backlash post-Sabarimala, Pinarayi and company are now raising the bogey of Muslim League. Muslims by and large had gone with the UDF in the 2019 Parliamentary elections, especially with Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad, a Muslim stronghold. Just before the local body elections, the ruling Left Democratic Front had weaned away a fraction of the breakaway Kerala Congress which is now led by the son of the late K.M. Mani, against whom the CPM had unleashed violent protests across the state while in opposition. The party had even laid a siege on the state secretariat and disrupted the last budget presentation by Mani in the erstwhile UDF government led by Congress veteran Oommen Chandy. All that was forgotten—corrupt turned purists overnight—when Mani’s son Jose K. Mani decided to cross over. CPM full well knew that with Mani’s son the elusive Christian vote too will follow. The calculation paid off: the LDF had it never so good in central Kerala, a Christian domain, in the local body elections. Now CPM could afford to lose its Hindu vote, which the BJP has been slowly cutting in. But Pinarayi knew that to consolidate the new found Christian vote, he had to work more.
Immediately after the local body elections where the LDF gained the most, the CPM subtly started a campaign against the Indian Union Muslim League which is the second largest partner in the UDF after Congress. In a way after the Mani Congress left the UDF, the front has become a two-party coalition. Certain remarks by the IUML leaders against the current Congress leadership came in handy for CPM. IUML had felt that Congress infighting led to the poor performance of the front. The Christian community in the state has a long-standing grievance that among the minorities, the Muslim community gets pre-eminence irrespective of which front is in power. It is alleged that 80% of the central aid for minorities go to the Muslim community. Moreover of late, sections within the Christian community have been complaining of “love jihad” on the part of Muslims. Taking advantage of this sentiment, Pinarayi unleashed a tirade against the UDF saying with the weakening of Congress by the day, it is the IUML that is going to call the shots in UDF. It was a clear move to appease the Christian community in central Kerala, so far out of CPM reach. Return to power is the ultimate revolution.
It is a fact that Congress is on the decline in the state mainly due to faction fights. The party has no representative in the Assembly from almost six of the 14 districts in the state. This is especially the case of north Kerala where a district like Kozhikode has had no Congress representative in the Assembly for over two decades now. If things go like this, it is natural that IUML might become the largest party in UDF. In that case, Kerala will have a Muslim Chief Minister in the event of UDF coming to power. As by old practice, Kerala has never voted an incumbent government in the past 50 years. Kerala had only one Muslim Chief Minister in the past, that too for a few months. Not that every Christian in the state is opposed to a Muslim Chief Minister. But it is no secret that the community would prefer one from their ranks to lead the state. In Congress Oommen Chandy is the most acceptable face for them. The current leader of the opposition is Ramesh Chennithala, a Hindu who has the backing of the Nair Service Society, the biggest socio-cultural organisation of the upper caste. Chennithala has been consistent in saying that the CPM “was trying to project the BJP as the main opposition rather than the UDF.”
Vijayan is in fact trying to cut into both Christian and Hindu votes by running down the Congress or projecting the Congress as a divided, crumbling edifice. Ultimately the gainer may turn out to be BJP, may not be this time. In Pinarayi Vijayan’s (Kerala not Bengal) current scheme of things, it may be the case in 2026.