Kerala: No Politics, Please
Curiously, the polls in ‘politicised Kerala’ have become apolitical this time
Hardnews Bureau Thiruvananthapuram
This could be the first time Kerala witnesses an election without ‘politics’. The three fronts, the all-powerful UDF (Congress-led), the LDF (CPI(M)-led) and the yet to be successful NDA (BJP and smaller parties) are, surprisingly, finding it difficult to give a political hue to this election.
The Left may claim that corruption is the biggest issue in this election. However, its supremo, Pinarayi Vijayan, is facing court proceedings in the multi-crore SNC Lavalin case. The Congress says all the allegations are politically motivated – including the solar scam where UDF ministers were competing to get benefits from a company run by Saritha S Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan. A judicial probe is on.
The eroding popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, issues such as burgeoning bad loans and letting Vijay Mallya flee the country are creating difficulties for the BJP, which is yet to get a place in the Kerala Assembly. It remains conjecture if it will be able to open its account this time as well.
In the 2006 and 2011 elections, corruption was the main issue. It was successfully made a crucial part of the campaign by nonagenarian CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan with his dramatic ways of mobilising public opinion. However, this time, he is a disciplined member of the CPI(M), thanks to the efforts of party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. Disciplining Achuthanandan may not help the LDF to win the floating ‘political’ votes, which are crucial in the state. Yechury’s desire for a peaceful organisational setting normalised the electoral scene. Undoubtedly, the controversy over Achuthanandan’s candidature and the public protests over it had helped the LDF to secure power in 2006 and to gain 67 seats in the 140-member Assembly in 2011.
The BJP and its allies are predictably trying to ‘politicise’ the scene by upping the anté on their pet trump card: communal fervour. The recent brouhaha over a newspaper report that allegedly criticised the Prophet Muhammad was effectively used both by ‘political Islamic ’ and ‘political Hindu’ forces in the state. The BJP made it a campaign issue to prove its ‘point’ that both the LDF and the UDF were appeasing Muslims for votes.
In the recently held local body elections, the Left improved its performance by raking up the beef controversy and the assaults on democracy under the Modi regime. Months later, the Left is not attacking the BJP as vigorously as it used to. There are apprehensions that the Left may not want the Hindu votes to go away by perpetually pointing fingers at the RSS.
However, there is pressure on the state leadership from the CPI(M) central leadership to train their guns more sharply on the BJP so that controversial issues are publicly discussed in Kerala. “The Sangh Parivar is anti-education. They recently burnt down a library in Thiroor, Malappuram. They tried to blacken institutions such as JNU, Hyderabad Central University and the FTII. Since their inception, these centres of learning were favourite destinations of Malayali students. So, obviously, we will take up such issues in the campaign,” a CPI(M) leader said.
Unlike the panchayat elections, this campaign is not in the mainstream of the debate. The CPI(M) failed to put up a ‘political’ list in terms of candidates. Many candidatures, like those of journalists Nikesh Kumar and Veena George, businessmen PV Anwar and V Abdurahman, and filmstar Mukesh have been controversial.
Meanwhile, the running feud between the top Congress leaders such as Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and KPCC president VM Sudheeran is giving a slight edge to the LDF. The Congress is still groping in the dark even as the LDF and the NDA have begun their campaigns in 140 constituencies. As this report goes to press, the UDF has finalised candidates for about 100 constituencies. Sudheeran’s ploy to push some of his loyalists, by removing ‘tainted leaders’, was unsuccessful.
In Kerala’s electoral history, even the US attack on Iraq was decisive in turning the tide. Significantly, in the current political scenario, the influence of the nouveau riche has made a good section of the political leadership openly apolitical. Gradually, this trend is catching on with the cadre too. Indeed, this election may set a new trend in days to come in Kerala.