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Kerala: Elections and After

Kerala: Elections and After

Whatever be the truth regarding the theory of the successive erosion of the United Democratic Front's mass base, it would be presumptuous to attribute to the poll outcome much more than what is denoted by the popular phrase of anti-incumbency. This of course, notwithstanding the V S Achutanandan factor. Now with the new state ministry in office, given the factional divide in the state CPI(M), if things are decided on the basis of mere pragmatic considerations or compromises worked out to satiate warring factions, the high hopes of the people might sooner than later give way to frustration.

KERALA

Elections and After

Whatever be the truth regarding the theory of the successive erosion of the United Democratic Front’s mass base, it would be presumptuous to attribute to the poll outcome much more than what is denoted by the popular phrase of anti-incumbency. This of course, notwithstanding the V S Achutanandan factor. Now with the new state ministry in office, given the factional divide in the state CPI(M), if things are decided on the basis of mere pragmatic considerations or compromises worked out to satiate warring factions, the high hopes of the people might sooner than later give way to frustration.

K HARIDAS be presumptuous to attribute to the poll

T
he electorate of Kerala did not make amends to its well-established tradition of denying two consecutive terms to either of the two fronts, namely, the United Democratic Front (UDF) or the Left Democratic Front (LDF), the main contenders for power in the recently concluded assembly elections. Moreover, despite the massive number of seats (98 out of 140) won by the LDF, it has been denied the benefit of more than 50 per cent of the votes, a feature that could have sparked off expectations of a permanent shift. Not even the most ardent supporters of the LDF can deduce the establishment of a West Bengal pattern with the present results. What is beyond doubt, however, is that a good number of Muslim votes have been cast in favour of the left, thanks to the eroding credibility of the Muslim League leaders, and that the trend set in motions with the 2004 Lok Sabha polls has been maintained. The election to the local bodies held between that Lok Sabha polls and the present assembly elections had witnessed a resurgence of sorts of the Muslim League, which observers could now treat as an aberration owing to the distinct nature of the issues considered in the local body elections. Whatever be the truth regarding the theory of the successive erosion of the UDF mass base, it would outcome much more than what is denoted by the popular phrase of anti-incumbency factor. This of course not withstanding the V S Achutanandan factor. What is heartening to the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – the CPI(M) – this time is that both of them together have gone much beyond the half way mark in terms of seats, having secured 17 and 61 seats respectively.

Caste and Communal AppealCaste and Communal AppealCaste and Communal AppealCaste and Communal AppealCaste and Communal Appeal

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had been nurturing hopes of opening its account in the state assembly for quite some time, now seems to have lost all such hopes, at least for the near future. The group rivalries in the state unit of the party, which have openly come out in recent years, made things worse for it. The former union minister Rajgopal who was expected to make it to the assembly from the Palghat constituency finished a poor third, reminiscent of the erosion of the BJP’s base in the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency in the by-election held last year. The percentage of votes polled by the BJP at the state level is estimated to be 4.75 per cent and is the lowest after the 2.75 per cent secured by the party in 1982, the first election after its formation. In the then assembly elections held in 1991, 1996 and

Economic and Political Weekly May 27, 2006 2001, the BJP had secured between 5 and 6 per cent of the votes. Interestingly in the Lok Sabha polls in 2004, it had been able to garner around 12 per cent of the valid votes. Against the backdrop of allegations and counter-allegations even from inside the Sangh parivar of large-scale vote transfer to the UDF to defeat the LDF, which had even led to the formation of enquiry committees in the past, the present erosion in votes is likely to further accentuate the fissures in the Sangh parivar. Mass scale vote transfer or not, the popularity of the BJP seems to be on the decline and the present results don’t augur well for the Sangh parivar in Kerala.

What is equally conspicuous is the lack of major influence by the “casteist” forces. Neither the nair community’s Nair Service Society (NSS) nor the ezhava community’s Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalanayogam (SNDP) had declared open support to any of the contending groups. The SNDP leader who was alleged to have hobnobbed with the BJP in the past and had voiced the pitch of “minority appeasement” by both the major fronts in the state had issued statements to defeat certain ministers of the UDF for their alleged insensitivity to the backward castes. The fact that they made it to the assembly despite this call speaks for itself. The attempts by the Sangh parivar to make a dent in the state by riding on the likes of NSS and SNDP have also come to nought, at least for the present. The religiosity that had been whipped up in Kerala and the cult figures promoted around religious feelings did appeal to many, especially with the vacuum created in the arena of ideological convictions after the demise of the socialist world. The advent of globalisation and the subsequent withdrawal of the state government from the social sector in general and education in particular had provided the caste outfits the opportunity to mobilise the aspiring middle classes among their respective castes with the demand of increase in the number of private educational institutes run by the “casteist” lobbies.

Renewed attempts at caste mobilisation have been tried out at the grassroot level in recent years. Now with the present results, it has to be concluded that such attempts have not succeeded to the extent of determining the voting pattern of the people. In other words, even as caste and religion continue to remain dominant factors in private life, and society is in general riddled with caste feelings, religiosity and revivalism of all hues have failed to bring political dividends to their perpetrators. Even if it is admitted that caste and religious sensibilities of each constituency have weighed heavily with both the fronts while deciding on the candidates and that a section of the electorate might have voted with such considerations, the conclusion that secular politics has come to stay will not be erroneous.

In the assembly elections of 2001, the UDF had been at the receiving end of the criticism by the LDF, and by the CPI(M) in particular, on account of soliciting the support of the Muslim extremist organisations. This time around, the onus was on the LDF to defend itself from similar attacks by the UDF. The explanation that the left could not have refuted the unconditional offer of votes from such organisations seems to have temporarily settled the matter. However, the future of this newly found relationship will depend much on the way the new LDF dispensation tackles a host of issues including the release of Madani, the detained leader of the Muslim outfit People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Even as the disenchantment with the leadership of the Muslim League grows, immersed as it is in the allegations of sex scandals and class arrogance, it will be interesting to see how the CPI(M) mobilises the breakaway folk from the Muslim League and prevents the religious extremists from assuming centre stage.

The VS FactorThe VS FactorThe VS FactorThe VS FactorThe VS Factor

What made the election campaign different this time from all elections in the past is what has been called the “V S Achutanandan factor”. It is not to say that personalities have never mattered in the past. The initial reluctance of the official group to allow him to contest won him enormous sympathy and was instrumental in enhancing the hero image already won by him during the past five years as the leader of the opposition. The net result was that wherever he went people turned out in large numbers, and even the leaders of the official group who were in the fray would feel unsafe if V S Achutanandan did not visit their constituencies. All these developments resulted in the melting down of the charges of “anti-minorities” and “anti-development” levelled against him by his own party men not so long ago. By his repeated references to the sex rackets and mafia gangs he could establish an easy rapport with the people, especially women. As the polling date drew nearer he tried his best to drive home the point that it was not so much the concept of development as much as the corruption ridden path of development that he was opposed to. The attempts by the UDF to take advantage of the group tussle in the CPI(M) did not cut much ice as the intervention of the central leadership had succeeded in projecting a semblance of unity in the party.

If the response and decisions of the state secretariat of the CPI(M) are anything to go by, the unity forged at the time of elections is bound to be short-lived. In his first reaction to the election results, the state secretary wouldn’t admit any sort of “VS wave” that had swept the polls for the party. According to him, the victory was the natural culmination of the process set in motion with the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. If that is so, the questions as to what prompted the group led by him to advance the line of collaboration with the Congress breakaway group led by Karunakaran – the politburo intervened and that line was rejected ultimately – remain unanswered.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that the proposal to tie up with the Karunakaran faction without any class analysis of the outfit was not a decision in isolation. Many decisions connected with the government formation indicate that conventions are being flouted. They include the denial of the crucial home ministry to the chief minister, fixing the number of ministers at 19, making the ministry a “Jumbo sized” one, to use a phrase used by the LDF to mock at the size of the UDF ministry when the latter had the same number of ministers. Almost all the members of the secretariat have become ministers and smaller parties have been given a raw deal in the allocation of portfolios. What is strikingly apparent is that all explanations furnished for the flouting of conventions are not convincing. Practical difficulties are often cited to justify major changes and one cannot be faulted if the conclusion that pure pragmatism has become the new mantra is drawn. The decision by the secretariat to limit the portfolio of the chief minister Achutanandan to merely “general administrations” is explained away as a matter of convenience. However, there are many who read more into all of this than what meets the eye. They attribute such decisions to the knee-jerk reactions of the lobby inside the party for whom VS could be a troublemaker as home minister in the future.

Right from the approach towards the progressive writers’ forum that raised the

Economic and Political Weekly May 27, 2006

ideological questions of surrender to neoliberal policies, the reluctance to delve into the politics and ideology of the issues raised has been apparent in the Kerala CPI(M). The state conference held at Malappuram, instead of attempting to sort out these ideological questions, tried for a patch up, as is becoming clearer now, ending up with negative consequences. Even the popularity that V S Achutanandan was able to win was not viewed from an ideological angle. The striking contrast between the scenario at the time of elections in 2001 and 2006 cannot escape any political observer. In 2001, the adivasis, the human rights groups and the feminist activists were all up in arms against the LDF. This time around all such groups did converge on the VS charisma to a large extent. Even though VS was eloquent about corruption-free development and agitated about the attempts of the UDF to transfer the state’s land and resources to private parties on a platter, the viewpoint was never articulated in the framework of ideology, as an alternate form of development. When the state secretary of the party undertook a state tour some months before the elections, his refrain of development sounded similar to that of the UDF. The crucial issue of “depoliticisation” of the concept of development that needed to be resisted was not taken up seriously. Now the high hopes raised around Achutanandan’s assuming the chief minister’s office are going to be tested in the days ahead and much will depend on how effectively a people-friendly and eco-friendly development pattern will be implemented. If without ideological deliberations things are decided on mere pragmatism or compromises worked out to satiate warring factions, as seems to be the case now, the high hopes might sooner than later give way to frustration. What is apparent in the current context is the supremacy of the organisational principles because it suits the official group to have its way. It is with its brute majority in the secretariat that the state secretary attempts to restrain the chief minister. Bad politics can be the winner with the help of a majority in the top committees of the party but that might result in the party itself becoming antipeople in due course. The politburo might be called upon by circumstances to intervene the hard way rather than merely manage the contradictions if the situation is to be saved.

m

Email: asbl@bom2.vsnl.net.in

Economic and Political Weekly May 27, 2006

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