Polls to panchayats, municipalities and corporations will begin next week in three phases.

New Delhi: Elections to the local bodies (panchayats, municipalities and corporations) in Kerala, scheduled to begin next week in three phases, gather importance as they come just months ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls. They are also being held in the background of major Central investigating agencies camping in the state, now for months, looking into various allegations against the ruling Left Front government. On its part, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government has ordered a slew of state vigilance enquiries against a host of Opposition leaders, from Congress and the Muslim League, hoping to influence gullible voters. It is interesting to note that while almost all the central agencies’ investigations are centred in and around the Chief Minister’s office with his former Principal Secretary as the main protagonist, the Chief Minister refuses to own up responsibility. He even unabashedly feigns ignorance about the happenings in his own office. While the CPM sees the investigations politically motivated, the party leadership is unable to explain as to how the Chief Minister’s office was used for smuggling of gold and related hawala activities for such a long time.
Now the latest news is that the ED has summoned yet another top aide of the Chief Minister. C M Raveendran, Additional Private Secretary to Pinarayi Vijayan, has been taking cover under corona and has been evading questioning for the past month or so. Unlike his Principal Secretary, Raveendran is a direct recruit from the CPM and hence the party, too, has come under the scanner. Allegations of political vendetta are unlikely to find many takers. Equally important is the case of the state CPM secretary’s son who is currently in ED custody on charges ranging from links with gold and drug smugglers and benami dealings. The CPM might have regained some ground with the party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan going on “leave”, but as long as Pinarayi Vijayan continues to remain in power, uneasy questions will keep on raising their ugly head in the minds of the people.
Not that Congress is any better. It is bereft of any leadership worth counting. The only saving grace is that the cases that are being dug up against its leaders have been lying untouched for the past four-and-a-half years of Left Front rule. In fact, Pinarayi VIjayan and company had come to power with the promise that they would set everything in order. But nothing of that sort happened and it is common knowledge that they are bringing up these cases now just to hoodwink the electorate. The Congress is blindly putting its hope on the misdeeds of the Left Front would carry the party back to power. The party and the leadership are indeed living in a fool’s paradise on borrowed time.
That puts BJP in an advantageous position as never before. The party’s stand that the traditional two fronts–who rotate power every five years for the past 40 years or so–are playing an “adjustment game” and nothing would come out of those vigilance investigations, finds credence among the electorate. But the state BJP is organisationally weak and is fully dependent on the RSS, which is not a popularly accepted organisation in the state. To add to its woes, the state BJP unit is plagued with factionalism which is all too common knowledge and is out in the open. Many leaders are staying away from the party campaign. In the absence of credibility among traditional political parties, the voters may turn to individuals who matter in their locality irrespective of political affiliations. This may speak for the presence of a large number of young, unemployed youth in the fray. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the people of Kerala take this opportunity to give their opinion which may turn out to be a clear indicator as to whether the Left will secure a historic second consecutive term as the CPM hopes or Kerala will go the traditional way by voting Congress back to power. In between, the unknown, the untested BJP factor will still remain as a big question mark. The local body elections this time are being held in three phases: 8 December (Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Idukki), 10 December (Ernakulam, Kottayam, Thrissur, Palakkad and Wayanad), and 14 December (Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod). The votes will be counted on 16 December. Kerala has a total of 1,200 self-government institutions that are categorised into village panchayats, block panchayats, district panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations spanning 14 districts. The elections in December will be held to 1,199 local bodies as the tenure of Mattannur municipal council in Kannur district follows a separate calendar. The seats contested include 15,962 wards in 941 village panchayats, 2,080 seats in 152 block panchayats, 331 seats in 14 district panchayats, 3,078 wards in 86 municipalities and 414 wards in six municipal corporations.
In the 2015 elections, the CPM-led LDF were the leaders, taking control of 551 of the 941 village panchayats, 42 of the 86 municipalities, seven of 14 district panchayats, 88 of the 152 block panchayats and four out of the six corporations. The Congress-led UDF came second by capturing 362 panchayats, seven district panchayats, two corporations, 40 municipalities and 63 block panchayats. The BJP could come to power only in 14 panchayats and one municipality. But the party had sprung a surprise last time in the prestigious 100-seat Thiruvananthapuram municipal corporation by winning 34 seats and pushing UDF to the third position. LDF captured the corporation with 42 seats. This time, of course, the BJP is hoping to capture the corporation coming on the heels of the party’s stellar performance in the Hyderabad municipal corporation elections. However, the most important of all during the campaign is the conspicuous absence of Pinarayi Vijayan from LDF posters and campaign trails. This has given way to speculation that the Kannur strongman is unlikely to lead the Front in the next Assembly elections. Who next is the question Kerala is debating right now.
FACTLINE: The Left Front government has broken all hitherto records in the country by appointing a committee to study the findings of the committee that looked into the state government’s controversial deal with a US-based technology firm called Sprinklr to collect data on corona affected in the state. The initial committee, of course, had indicted the government for procedural lapses on the deal.