Kerala’s ruling United Democratic Front and the opposition Left Democratic Front have started looking for realignments, wooing old as well as new partners ahead of the Assembly elections in May. This has become all the more important in the light of the gains made by the BJP, in the just concluded three-tier local elections after allying with a Hindu social outfit.
Ezhavas, the followers of one of the greatest social reformers of the country, Sree Narayana Guru, have been traditional supporters of the CPM, which leads the LDF. In fact, the Communist movement in the state has been built on the backbone of this community, which comprises 20% of the state’s Hindu population (54.7%) out of a total population of 33.3 million. A social organisation set up in the name of Sree Narayana Guru and with considerable influence among the community, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sangham (SNDP), of late, has been coming out openly against the Communists. The Sangham leadership is also hobnobbing with BJP president Amit Shah.
Ironically, the legacy of the Guru, who carried out a crusade against liquor, has now fallen into the hands of a small-time toddy vendor turned rich man, Vellappalli Natesan who has been running the SNDP as a fiefdom, snuffing out all opposition. The ambitious Natesan is now giving the CPM leadership a run for its money. The BJP, which had tried other avenues in the past, is now hoping that allying with Natesan will help it gain a foothold in the state. And Natesan is playing footsie with them, much to the consternation of the Marxists.
Natesan, with open backing of the RSS, took out a Kerala yatra, whipping up majority Hindutva sentiments; at the end of which he announced the formation of a political outfit, Bharat Dharam Jana Sena (BDJS). This has made both the traditional fronts that have shared power alternatively ever since the state was formed in 1957, sit up and take note. The BJP is now boldly saying that they will form a “third front”, in a way putting Natesan in the front.
The ruling UDF led by Congress is besieged by corruption charges, relating to one of its partners, Kerala Congress, a splinter group led by K.M. Mani, who was forced to quit as finance minister over bribery charges.
Add to this the fact that things are not so rosy for either the UDF or LDF. The ruling UDF led by the Congress is besieged by corruption charges, relating to one of its partners, Kerala Congress, a splinter group led by K.M. Mani, who was forced to quit his post as the state finance minister over bribery charges. Mani has already started sending out subtle vibes to the LDF and even to the BJP. Some other ministers are also under the cloud of corruption charges and it would not be a surprise if one or two others follow Mani.
LDF’s main problem is the CPM. Plagued by an internal power struggle for years, it had just recovered, putting up an improved performance in the local elections. This was mainly possible because the warring groups led by the 92-year-old V.S. Achuthanandan and former state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan buried the hatchet for the time being. But the spectre of another power struggle in the wake of the Assembly elections is looming large over the party. V.S., a former Chief Minister and the only living member of the undivided Communist Party to form the CPM in 1964, and the most popular politician in Kerala, has dropped a bombshell saying that he is ready for another electoral battle if the people and the party want him.
What prompted him to say so, without the permission of his local leadership as is the case with CPM, was a statement by party general secretary Sitaram Yechury that age was not a bar for Communists. Yechury has always put his weight behind V.S. in his open battles against the party leadership many a time in the past. A day after, the state party leadership led by a coterie from Malabar in north Kerala and owing full allegiance to Pinarayi Vijayan, announced a Kerala yatra and named Vijayan as the one who would be the captain of the yatra. This is considered an open challenge to the central leadership and is likely to open old wounds.
As the dust barely settled over this drama came a volatile statement from a Sunni leader whom the CPM has been cultivating in its efforts to alienate the mainstream Indian Union Muslim League. Kanthapuram Aboobacker Musaliyar, addressing Sunni students said, “Gender equality is against Islam… The world is controlled by men. Women can deliver babies. Her duty is to rear children and feed the husband.” Musaliyar has been known for controversial statements, but this time it looks like things have gone out of control.
Right-wing hawks have joined the chorus of women, including from the liberal Muslim community, in criticising him. Though Musaliyar has retracted most of his statements, they are embarrassing for the CPM.