WAITING FOR A CLICHÉ

Despite the popularity of a clean VS, the CPM might find its nose in the ground in the coming polls
Akash Bisht Delhi

History repeats itself. First as an inevitability, then as a cliché. This cliché could well hold true for the upcoming assembly elections in Kerala where the incumbent, the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), is facing a daunting task of returning to power - something that has not happened in the state in decades. No political formation has returned to power after one stint in Kerala. With political pundits placing their bets on the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), many believe that even the charismatic VS Achutanandan, 87, can't lead the LDF back to power. 

Adding to LDF's worries is the recent CPM gaffe wherein the party leadership (led by a lacklustre, stick-in-the-mud Prakash Karat) decided not to field VS, a move that backfired and led to protests across the state. The beleaguered CPM leadership then went on a damage control mode and was forced to field VS from Malampuzha in Palakkad. The entire episode was an action-replay of 2006 when VS, a mass leader with impeccable integrity, had been denied a ticket, despite his popularity. The veteran then went on to become the chief minister despite the defunct central leadership's obvious reluctance. This time around the CPM politburo has indicated that VS will not be leading the party post-polls.

These complications will not help the party and its prospects, and local leaders are unsure whether the reversal of the decision to field VS would undo the damage. Insiders believe that VS's alienation could well be the conspiracy of scam-tainted party secretary Pinanrayi Vijayan, who has on several occasions shown that he has no love lost for the popular leader. This factionalism is bound to impact LDF's campaign. Despite claiming to be a party of the grassroots, observers feel that CPM has failed to read the sentiments of the people.   

This alienation of VS has made him a hero. Crowds are flocking to his rallies. Not exactly a great administrator, VS has a formidable reputation backed by his clean image, social commitment and charisma.  Back in 2006, VS's campaigns against the sex mafia, illegal encroachment of government land, kidney rackets, illegal mining and exploitation of water by MNCs helped him win hearts and the polls. He won accolades for his crusade against a UDF leader's alleged involvement in a sex-for-money racket. It is now widely perceived that the upright chief minister has been left to fend for himself, and his detractors within the party have ganged up against him, with Karat's shadow looming large. 

As a result, the party suffered major setbacks. Owing to factionalism within CPM, UDF won 16 of the 20 seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections while CPM lost 10 of the 14 seats it contested. Significantly, even in local body elections, UDF won in 509 of 804 gram panchayats, 92 of 148 block panchayats, eight of the 14 district panchayats, 25 of 37 municipalities and two of five corporations.

Cynics have predicted the fall of the LDF government. However, recent developments have cast a shadow on UDF as well. The 'ice cream parlour' sex scandal case linked with PK Kunhalikkutty, general secretary of  Muslim League, a key UDF ally; one-year prison term for former minister and Kerala Congress(B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai in a corruption case; the reopening of the Karappara Kuriayarkutty project corruption case which has a former UDF minister, TM Jacob, as one of the accused; inquiry into the palmolien import scandal wherein UDF's Oommen Chandy had sanctioned the oil import as finance minister of Kerala - all these can change the equations on the ground. 

These fresh disclosures of corruption cases have certainly pushed UDF on the backfoot, although it was till recently considering the route to Thiruvananthapuram a mere cake walk. Certainly, anti-incumbency is the only hope for UDF's return to power.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2011