Kerala has kept its date with political destiny and the lotus. Keralites have booted out the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front and voted in the CPM-led Left Democratic Front, whose turn it is this time as has been the practice in this southern state every five years for over four decades. While the Congress was routed, voters in this highly volatile state have also decided to send one representative from the “pariah” BJP to the Assembly, a first in the history of the state since its formation in 1957. It was poetic justice for the party’s old warhorse O. Rajagopal, veteran of many a battle, both Assembly and Lok Sabha, who won from Nemam constituency in Thiruvananthapuram by a margin of 8,671 votes.
Though the fall of the UDF government, perhaps the most tainted in the state’s history, was more or less certain, no one expected such a rousing performance by the Left. Not only was the Congress practically wiped out from many of its strongholds, two of the front partners failed even to open their account in this election. The RSP, which had crossed over from the Left just before the last general elections, lost all its five candidates. Both the sitting MLAs of the Janata Dal (U), which too had come to roost at UDF following its differences with the Marxists, lost. Four ministers, Speaker of the House and his deputy along with the chief whip fell by the wayside as the Congress was reduced to 22 seats from its 39 last time. The only two front partners which came out with minor bruises are the Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress led by the discredited former Finance Minister K.M. Mani. The League managed to hold on to 18 seats from the previous 20. The only consolation for Mani is that he survived one of the scariest battles in his 50-year political career while all deserters from his party and joined hands with the Marxists before the elections lost miserably.
The loss of the state will have its political ramifications for the Congress nationwide. It is obvious the party has to pay the price for the ostrich-like political chicanery of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. It was Chandy who refused to believe that political discontent was brewing in the state against his corruption-ridden administration by saying that the people’s court will give its verdict on his government. He fought off his own party state president V.M. Sudheeran and insisted that he could carry the day on the chimera of development and the need for a continuance in governance. He even dared the party high command, not very common in Congress family culture, over seat allotment to some of his confidants by challenging the Gandhis to drop him first before touching them. It was Sudheeran who had unleashed a campaign to clean up the Congress stables prior to elections by advocating removal of certain tainted ministers. Today he stands partially vindicated as the Excise Minister K. Babu, who is under a cloud over bar bribery case lost from his traditional stronghold in central Kerala. As is their wont, even in days of gloom, Congressmen spot a rainbow to rejoice. Hence the election outcome is seen as a victory for the I Group, traditional Indira loyalists represented by Ramesh Chennithala, over the A Group (read Antony associates, with Chandy first among them) within the party. Fourteen of the 22 who won are said to belong to the I Group. Sensing this, Chandy has reportedly told the leadership not to bank on him to lead the party in the 14th Assembly. This time around, it seems to be the end of the show for the 72-year-old, otherwise one of the greatest trapeze artistes Kerala politics has ever seen.
It was senior Congress leader from the state, A.K. Antony who first led the charge for a “BJP-less Assembly”, before the Reds joined the chorus. So scathing and venomous was the campaign unleashed against the BJP that Antony stated that BJP would have to take a visitor’s pass to enter the Assembly.
The task is cut out for the Marxists. The state leadership in the presence of party general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Politburo member Prakash Karat has named Pinarayi Vijayan as the next Chief Minister of the state. It is an irony that the more the state leadership of the CPM tries to get out of it, the more the shadow of V.S. Achuthanandan looms over the party. Like it or not, the all powerful Kannur lobby will have to admit, however grudgingly, that without VS this victory would not have been possible. The stamina of this 93-year-old is astounding. For over a fortnight, covering some 200 km a day from north to south of Kerala, VS spit venom against Chandy and company enthralling the masses, cutting across party lines. From the ban on liquor bars to solar Saritha to land and assorted mafias who thrived under the benevolence of UDF, nothing escaped Achuthanandan’s acid tongue. One will have to wait and see how VS reacts to the party decision on Vijayan. Yechury has hailed him as the Fidel Castro of Kerala and has even hinted an advisory role for the nonagenarian. This is not going to work out for sure. VS had apparently asked for at least one year term as CM. Some sort of a face saving formula as was the case with Jyoti Basu in his winter days when Buddhadeb Bhattaacharya took over midway in West Bengal. Hardliners under the leadership of Karat did not budge. Yechury already under Stalinist fire for his debacle in Bengal could only request VS not to react impetuously. Achuthanandan refused to comment on the day’s developments, but his face spoke volumes. The differences between Pinarayi Vijayan and Achuthanandan are only going to sharpen in the days ahead. Since Vijayan’s is the last word in the state party, he becoming the Chief Minister too will certainly centralise power. This stranglehold on the party and the administration by a single individual may not go down well in a democratic set up.
It was senior Congress leader from the state, A.K. Antony who first led the charge for a “BJP-less Assembly”, before the Reds joined the chorus. So scathing and venomous was the campaign unleashed against the BJP that Antony stated that BJP would have to take a visitor’s pass to enter the Assembly. Whether the so called secular fabric of Kerala will be torn apart with the presence of one BJP representative in the Assembly is a matter of contention, but the fact is that Antony will have to eat crow. For, perhaps ominously to some, this election has proved that Kerala is not averse to the idea of a third front led by the BJP-Bharat Dharma Jana Sena combine. Otherwise what can explain the front coming a close second in as many as seven seats, losing one by a margin of just 400 odd votes, and mopping up over 30,000 votes in a score of constituencies spread across the state. BDJS obviously has not succeeded in weaning away the traditional Ezhava vote, on which it had pinned its hopes, from the CPM, but it has succeeded in keeping the pot boiling for caste reservations for those belonging to Nayadis to Namboodiris. What a Vajpayee or Advani could not do, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine has done in Kerala. Whether they consolidate on this depends on how the traditional fronts, especially the LDF which is going to take up the reins of power, perform in the days to come. But in all probability it is the end of bi-polar politics in this southern state unlike in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.