With the Congress in a shambles in the state, political pundits see a direct fight between the CPM and BJP here, for the first time in the state. The result will indicate how the wind blows in this southern state where BJP has high hopes ahead of the 2019 general elections.

 

After the debacle in Tripura, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury stands corrected. His party indeed is Communist Party of Kerala (Marxist). Yechury, while addressing the state party conference in Thrissur late February, had reminded the comrades there that “CPM stands not for Communist Party of Kerala (Marxist), but for Communist Party of India (Marxist)”. In reply to the state unit’s rejection of his line for a tactical understanding with the Congress at the national level to defeat the ruling BJP, Yechury had asked party cadre to look beyond Kerala. Now with the party confined only to Kerala, and absolutely no chance of a return to its old bastions of West Bengal and Tripura, the CPM’s first concern will be to safeguard the fort in Kerala from the ever-expanding Sangh Parivar brigade and think national later. Incidentally, the party’s Malayalam mouthpieces had blacked out the general secretary’s statement then.

The urgency is there since a byelection, first after the ruling Left Front came to power in Kerala two years ago, is due anytime now since elections to the neighbouring Karnataka Assembly have been announced. The Chengannur Assembly seat fell vacant two months ago, following the death of the CPM member in January. The byelection is important as all the three fronts in Kerala—CPM-led Left Democratic Front, Congress-led United Democratic Front and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance—have a strong presence in this predominantly Hindu-Christian populace of the constituency. CPM was a surprise winner in Chengannur in Alappuzha district in central Kerala in 2016. It had wrested the seat from Congress, which had won it for three consecutive terms till then by a margin of 7,983 votes. The BJP candidate, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, who is contesting this time too, had come third; trailing by just 2,000 votes behind runner-up Congress, polling 42,682 votes, about 29.36% of votes cast. The result here this time will also indicate how the wind blows in this southern state where BJP has high hopes ahead of the 2019 general elections.

With the Congress in a shambles in the state, political pundits see a direct fight between the CPM and BJP here, for the first time in the state. If a Tripura like situation arises in Chengannur, it will be the undoing of the Left Front, which has nothing worthwhile to point as its single major achievement in its two years in power. The government has backtracked on all its promises. Not a single corruption case, the major plank on which it rode to power, has been pursued by the government. Instead, it is working overtime to give a clean chit to former finance minister K.M. Mani against whom the largest corruption cases were raised while the Left Front was in opposition. CPM badly needs the support of Mani and his Kerala Congress, which had severed its three-decade old ties with the UDF, in the byelection.

Though Mani claims to keep equidistance with all the three fronts, it is common knowledge that the wily politician is waiting for a good bargain. However, the CPI, the second largest partner in the Left Front, is hell bent against any truck with Mani. But CPI’s crusade against tainted politicians does not hold much water since R. Balakrishna Pillai, perhaps the only Kerala politician to spend time behind bars for corruption, enjoys Cabinet rank position in this LF government as head of the Kerala State Welfare Corporation for Forward Communities.

Political violence is on the rise ever since the LF government came to power. BJP has already successfully brought it to the national scene. CPM as a party is facing a deeper crisis. There is lack of ideology down the line. A party which identifies itself with the poor is distancing itself from the masses. Common people’s struggles are put down with a heavy hand. The struggle by farmers against forcible acquisition of farmland in a party village in Kannur is the latest in a chain of protests dotting across the state. In November last, Mukkom in Kozhikode district had witnessed such a struggle when locals formed a Janakeeya Samara Samithi to protest against the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline of Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL).

The project is in limbo following violent incidents in the area. The same was the case with the agitation against setting up an LPG terminal project by Indian Oil Corporation at Puthuvype in Kochi. After bouts of violent agitations in which the police stand accused of unprovoked violence, the fate of the project too hangs fire even as the anti-project Janakiya Samara Samithi is active in the area. The government claim that it is “with the people” is met with scepticism, at least at the ground level.

There is hardly any difference between CPM and those parties which it loves to address as bourgeois. Ministers are in the news for buying expensive spectacles. The Chief Minister goes for a check-up at the most expensive private sector hospital in the country. Latest comes the news of government acquiring 25 Innova cars for ministers, when there is hardly any money to pay pension for its staff. The public is watching. The party is currently led by a leadership which has grown with political violence in the Malabar region and has taken a liking to being in power. Old timers rue the lack of ideological substance in their discourses. They talk more of violence than Marxian values. All these forebodes well for the BJP, which is hoping to capitalise on the absence of a strong Congress presence in the state.

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