Kerala 2011 : Understanding the Communist – Communal state
This post is part of CRI Elections 2011 Series. CRI commentariat will be extensively analysing the series of state elections – Assam, West Benga, Tamil Nadu and Kerala – scheduled for the year 2011
Come April 13th, the electorate of Kerala would rush in herds (pun intended) to the 2200 polling booths to exercise their franchise for the 14th state assembly election. From the 1980’s the politically aware electorate have alternatively blessed the two major fronts- UDF (United Democratic Front) led by the INC and LDF (Left Democratic Front) led by the CPI (M). Has a shift in electoral landscape occurred that this cyclical power transfer pattern is set to be disrupted?
The political pundits, guided by conventional electoral arithmetic and psephological wisdom, continue with their prognosis of a facile victory for UDF despite few opinion polls suggesting an exceedingly close race with UDF having a marginal edge. A recent Asianet – Cfore predicted UDF to get 77-87 seats, LDF bagging 53-63 seats and BJP plus others mopping up the remaining 0-5 seats. An interesting phenomenon discerned during the opinion poll is that a very high proportion of the electorate (18%) has still not firmed up their electoral choice. If opinion polls are to be construed as a fair assessment of ground reality, the prevailing electoral trend is a far cry from the huge swings, state has been witnessing in last few elections in favor of one or the other formation. A quick analysis of the voting trends in past few elections elucidates the point on how one of two formations has alternatively managed to win by a huge landslide. However this time around this trend could possibly change.
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EMS Ministry in 1957 created history by being the first democratically elected communist government in the world. The government, infused with revolutionary ideals, began implementing radical programs in land reforms, healthcare and education. This challenged the traditional hegemony of the feudal order. The government intervention in the education sector resulted in direct confrontation with supremely powerful Catholic Church which had a stranglehold on the sector thanks to rapacious real estate acquisition abetted by imperial largesse. Consequence of resentment among the clergy manifested in the well orchestrated and executed “Vimochana Samaram” (Liberation struggle), spearheaded by the clergy and politically backed by the Congress. Church used its patented indoctrination and mobilization tactics and skillfully weaved its agenda in to larger agitational framework. To this day role of CIA in nurturing and funding this movement has not received the necessary scrutiny despite availability of considerable corroborative evidence. The alleged breakdown of law and order caused by this agitation in the state led to invocation of article 356 by Nehru and the dismissal of the government.
Post that political turmoil, Kerala has followed mostly adhered to a “Centre of Left “agenda of governance faithfully practiced by both fronts. The fact there was nothing much that separates the two fronts in terms of policies or governance led to people choosing the two fronts alternatively. The votes were always anti – incumbent but never “pro-challenger”.
UDF government between 2001-2006 was infamous for its glaring incompetence and dismal governance, rendered even worse by factional intrigues and catering to pernicious communal identity politics. The government employees’ agitation of Feb 2002, where 5.5 lakh government employees went on strike and unemployed graduates queued up for temporary recruitment as garbage collectors revealed stark reality of decrepit economy surviving on Gulf remittances.
The Muthanga incident were the police firing killed 1 tribal and brutally lath charged and injured more than 100 others was widely televised and the UPA government led by A.K Antony was being seen as a macabre Police Raj.
The drubbing in 2004 Lok Sabha and subsequent local body elections forced AK Antony to resign as the CM and Oomen Chandy took over. Also during this period the formidable K Karunakaran faction split form the INC to form DIC(Democratic Indira Congress). Lack of governance, incompetence and infighting made the people turn against the UDF rule
In sharp contrast to this, was the charismatic persona of then LDF’s Leader of Oppostion, Comrade V.S. Achuthanandan(fondly called VS). VS is widely seen as an indefatigable campaigner on livelihood issues concerning the marginalized section of Kerala and a man of unquestionable personal integrity. VS almost acted like a shadow CM, went on Ganja hunts to Munnar, raked up corruption cases, highlighted the illegal land encroachments in public domain. He captured the public imagination with his relentless battles
Although there was factionalism in the state CPM between the VS and Pinarayi Vijayan(CPM state Secretary), it came as a shocker when rootless central committee apparatchiks connived with Pinarayi Vijayan to deny VS a ticket to contest. Public anger and outcry led to the CPM central leadership beating a hasty retreat and rescind its original decision. VS was allowed to contest and projected as the CM candidate of LDF. LDF won a thumping majority.
VS started off his term with a bang, taking up the Munnar land encroachment issue. He handpicked officers like Raju Narayana Swami IAS , Suresh Kumar IAS and Hrishiraj Singh IPS and put them in charge of the operations. VS used to personally travel and supervise the demolition of illegal structures and even big business groups like Tata’s were not spared by this demolition army. VS intentionally took up the encroachment issues of his own party leaders with aim of marginalizing them and bolstering his public image. It was found out that even CPI office in Munnar was an illegal structure. The powerful party machinery, visibly shaken by VS’ combative challenge, took the fight back to VS. Ultimately the party machinery triumphed over VS and the whole issue was given a silent burial. Raju, Singh and Suresh Kumar were made scapegoats. Suresh Kumar was later suspended from service by ministers owing allegiance to Pinarayi for alleged irregularities.
Many other land deals where ruling faction was involved like the Ponmudei ISRO land scam case started tumbling out but the government was silent. This dented VS’s hard earned credibility.
The fight between VS and Pinarayi factions was out in the open and increasingly took an ugly turn with both making public statements against each other. This lead to Cabinet ministers openly revolting against the CM and governance coming to a grinding halt. VS and Pinarayi were ultimately rebuked by the Party central leadership and suspended from the politburo (PB).
Kerala has also been witnessing a string of sex scandals and starting from Vithura, Ice Cream Parlour Case et.c. VS was seen as crusader against when he was in opposition ranks. But when the Kiliroor sex scandal hit and the sons of two ministers were alleged to involved in it, VS (emasculated by the party) unfortunately didn’t act.
Then came the SNC-Lavlin issue were Pinarayi was made an accused by the CBI and governor gave sanction to prosecute him despite a cabinet decision against it. Though VS was trying to fight it out and wanted Pinarayi to face the legal consequences, he was later made to make a public announcement that the case was a political conspiracy and the party would fight it “politically and legally”
General perception gained ground that that no visible development was happening under this government – case being cited was the “Tecom Dubai SMART CITY “ project which was signed under Oomen Chandy in 2006 but had run into trouble under VS .
The education reforms bill, which was later annulled by the HC, had brought the government in direct conflict with the Church which continues to run most of the professional and higher education institutions. The Church came out openly against the government and the priests started reading out anti government notes promulgated by the bishop’s. To compensate for loss of Christian votes Pinarayi decided to embark on a communal engineering of another kind – by attempting an outreach to Abdul Nasar Madani of the PDP and secure the Muslim votes , which was controlled mostly by the IUML. Madani was a radical Islamist supremacist and was an accused in 92 Coimbatore Bomb blast case. He had spent 9 years in jail as an under trail and later acquitted due to lousy prosecution and complicity by the Tamil nadu government.
The Lottery Scam cases of 2010 were the CM himself, indirectly put the Finance Minister Thomas Issac (identified with Pinarayi faction) in dock, rocked the state. Santiago Martin who the owner of Megha Distributors and was the representative of Bhutan Lottery in Kerala had allegedly swindled crores in tax revenues. Santiago Martin was seen as close to the Pinarayi faction and it had made huge loans to the Party News paper “Deshabhimani”.
Groundswell of public opinion against government led to even party cadres had distancing themselves from the party. This led to the LDF rout in 2010 Lok Sabha and local body elections. The party had come to the assessment that even the core party workers had not voted for the party.
Having been hit with such an electoral catastrophe, analysts were sure of a rout of LDF in the 2011 assembly polls. Analyst even predicted that the LDF wouldn’t be able to hold on to 20 seats. From such dire straits, in the past 3 months a perceptible shift is apparently happening and political momentum is swinging way albeit slowly to LDF largely due to one man -VS. This election is perceived by political commentators as being VS v/s UDF.
We shall discuss the events which led to this turnaround in the next post.