Kerala 2011: The Hand, Lotus and VS
Much water has flowed since the previous post analyzing the Kerala polls scenario and this one. Many flip flops and incidents later the political winds in Gods Own Country still have the same smell and tone. There are still no “Waves”. As I mentioned in the initial post its very unlike the typical Kerala polity where we always have had a huge surges against the incumbent government.
The talk has now shifted from “Waves” to “undercurrents” and therefore it becomes a minefield for any armchair analyst to assess the situation correctly.
To gauge the public sentiment and evaluation of the feet on the street workers yours truly used the past month or so to talk to the public, cadre and some leaders for all sides ,most prominently from that of the LDF and BJP. I shall try to put forward those assessments combined with my analysis in this post.
Till 3 months back the rout of LDF could have been a no brainer for any observer but the opposition literally has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory cheered and aided by the VS antics.
It started off with a sex scandal which has been dismissed by the courts, popularly know as the Ice cream Parlor case. The scandal erupted 12 years back with the victim Regina accusing the then Industries Minister and IUML secretary Kunhalikutty of sexually exploiting her. The public outrage forced Kunhalikutty to resign as minister and face the probe. Consequently the witnesses and the victim turned hostile and the courts acquitted him. It was all forgiven and forgotten although the tag of “Ice Cream Kunhali ” stuck onto him. In Jan 2011 Kunhalikutty made a startling revelation in a press conference that his co-brother Rauf was trying to Blackmail him and he had earlier on used his position as minister to help Rauf. Rauf in responded saying that it was he who had negotiated and bribed people to help Kunhalikutty escape from the sex scandal and all witnesses, victims and even the Judge was bribed for this. He further declared that he was ready to face any probe and depose before the law enforcing agencies. VS latched onto this and ordered a reprobe into the case. The UDF leadership failed to gauge the outrage of the public when they tried to defend Kunhalikutty and vilify VS.
The second misadventures was in terms of one of the congress leaders TH Mustafa’s submission in court asking to be relieved from probe in the Palmolein Import case which led to the dismissal of PJ Thomas as CVC . TH Mustafa prayed to court that if he as Food Minister is being named as an accused so should the then Finance Minister Oomen Chandy (who is the UDF’s CM candidate) . VS played his cards well here and approached the vigilance courts to include Oomen Chandy’s name as an accused.
The third and most decisive jolt to the UDF came when the leader of the Kerala Congress (B) Mr. Balakrishna Pillai was convicted by the SC for 1-year rigorous imprisonment in the Edamalayar graft case for the loss caused to the state exchequer as electricity minister. This was a case, which VS had fought; in his personal capacity for more than a decade even when the state chose not to appeal Pillai’s acquittal by lowers courts. This boosted VS image as a personal crusader against corruption. To add to the woes of the opposition, UDF decided to have a rally in support of Pillai and a Congress MP, P Sudharan commented that he had been a eye witness to bribing a Judge. Notwithstanding the fact that the statement was made to degrade the credibility of the judicial process that had convicted Pillai, VS played it up as another venality within the opposition ranks.
This was all when the UPA government at the centre was facing flak for being the most corrupt government in the history of the nation.
VS had redeemed his image as a person of high personal integrity and champion against corruption. The people outlook of the LDF had still not changed, which was still perceived corrupt and incompetent. VS persona had helped them reduce the perception of insufficiency.
The cadres and the staunch loyalist who had deserted the party once again were regaled back and VS captivated the imagination of the cadres and the masses at large.
But LDF had its share of problems once the elections were announced. The Anti VS faction within the CPM lead by Pinarayi Vijayan loathed the growing stature of VS . The state committee of CPM decided against VS contesting the elections and nominated the discredited HM of Kerala , Kodiyeri Balakrishnan to lead the front . Better sense dawned on the central leadership when the CPM Polit Bureau overruled the decision to nominate VS to fight the elections and lead the front.
It is quite unprecedented and surprising to note that VS portraits dominated the LDF campaign material today, a far cry from the days people in Kerala were treated to images of Marx , Lenin and Che .
The UDF, which was very hopeful of a sweeping victory, got demoralized which the recent turn of events. Adding to the woes was in-fighting within the party and handling the mercurial alliance partners.
The second largest component of the UDF was historically the IUML(Indian Union Muslim League), which cornered nearly 20-25 seats. The Kerala congress factions (Mani , Jacob) were seen as the exclusive Christian voices within the UDF. The other Kerala congress faction was the Balakrishna Pillai faction, which was a predominantly Hindu Nair representation.
The other faction of the KC was the Joseph faction aligned to the LDF . The church, which was miffed with the LDF during the current term predominantly during the interference of the government in the private and professional education sector cajoled Joseph faction to leave the LDF and merge with Mani and be part of the UDF. By way of the merger the church envisaged a larger role for Mani within the UDF in comparison to the IUML and emerge the 2nd
biggest player in the alliance. Once the merger was through, Mani demanded his pound of flesh, asking for 23 seats in the alliance up from the 11 they contested last time around. The congress finally agreed to a number of 15 , far less than the 23 given to IUML. The other alliance partners like JSS , CMP and Socialist Janata also tried to arm twist the congress for larger share of seats. The JSS lead by the 92 year old ex-left ideologue KR Gouriamma publicly threatened to walk out of the alliance at many instances if their demand were not met . The Socialist Janata party lead by MP VeerandraKumar is a splinter group from the JD(S) which walked out of the LDF when their demand of a seat in LS was not met. The Socialist Janata was instrumental in UDF sweeping the Calicut-Wayand belt in the last LS elections.
Which they being offered far less number of seats than what they asked for the cadres are demoralized and may not work actively for other UDF candidates. As a matter of fact they have already said that they will not support the Congress candidate in Chittur assembly segment, which is their stronghold and a seat they had been denied. The turf war within the congress between the KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala and CM aspirant Oomen Chandy does not make things easy for the congress as well. Disregarding traditions for the first time in recent years we have a KPCC president fighting elections. No one in the congress hierarchy can foresee a situation were Ramesh would work under Chandy’s leadership in the legislature or ministry.
The biggest worry for the congress would be the verity that it’s only contesting 80 seats on its own in these elections. With 70 seats required for majority, it doesn’t look like garnering it own its own. Left in the hands of its allies, Congress knows its going to be bumpy road ahead.
The BJP in Kerala has been a party of paradoxes. A party, which has no providence of power in the short to medium term, still is worst ridden by factionalism. The electoral performance of the BJP in Kerala has been the 2004 LS elections where they garnered nearly 12% of the popular vote. The very next elections it was brought down to just over 6 %. The BJP has been accused and often rightly of trading votes to the UDF . an classic example had been the Thiruvanthanthapuram constituency where O Rajagopal had garnered 2 lakh voted in 2004 and come second , which reduced to 80,000+ in 2011 LS elections.
The major drawback of the BJP from a organizational point of view had been the lack of its own cadres. Most of the cadres are drawn from the RSS, which has a very strong presence in Kerala. RSS in Kerala had been keeping its distance from the BJP due to the lack of discipline and the shift from core ideologies.
Many RSS cadres in Kerala had lost their lives to the CPM goons and hence the natural enemy of the RSS in Kerala had been the CPM. Many a time the the local RSS swayamsevaks had supported the congress candidates to ensure the CPM’s defeat. A closer analysis of the vote share swings tell us that the Congress gains have not been as much on CPM’s loss but on BJP’s.
The situation in the state BJP has changed with the new Party President V Muraleedharan taking over. He is largely seen as a Sangh nominee and backed to the hilt by Nitin Gadkari . Muraleedharn is known as a No-nonsense person with excellence organizational capabilities. His recent Kerala Raksha Padayatra was an attempt to bring together the cadres and energize them. With the congres gunning for the Sangh at a national level its unlikely they would support any congress candidate and the benefit would go to the LDF.
The 3 seats the BJP sees a chance has been Manjeshwaram and Kasargode in the Kasargod district and Nemom in Thiruvannanthapuram District where the stalwart O Rajagopal is contesting . Manjeshwaram and Kasargod has been traditional strongholds of the BJP where they always finish in second position. Infact they have been loosing Manjeshwaram for margins less than 3500 votes. These areas, which border Karnataka, have large populations of Tulu speaking Gouda Saraswta Brahmins although the majority has been Muslims. Each time around in these constituencies the LDF and UDF transfers votes to each other to defeat the BJP. This time around since the LDF and UDF both sense victory at the state the transfer of votes might not take place. Nemom is another constituency where the O Rajagopal stands a remote chance because of his personal charisma and stature.
The weakness in the BJP lies in the fact that since most of its cadres are drawn from the sangh who do not have knowledge of electoral politics. Booth level mobilization and street campaign labour are missing. As a BJP state leader put it to me, the workers do not understand the difference between a booth and a panchayat ward.
This commentator is trading into a minefield, which can blow up on my face. Risking that I would put my numbers at UDF- 85 LDF – 54 BJP -1.