Achuthanandan’s last battle

Understanding the complexities of Kerala’s milieu has always been a challenge.

Ajith Vijay Kumar

Understanding the complexities of Kerala’s milieu has always been a challenge, even more so when the Keralaite goes about deciphering the “group” led political kaleidoscope of the state.

On one side is the Left which, nationally, is on the verge of decimation. And on the other is the Congress-led UDF, hoping to effectively shield itself from the powerful meteorite shower called corruption coming from UPA’s Delhi.

And, somewhere in between, stands the incumbent Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. Full of energy and vitality, his stature is akin to the mythological Phoenix, rising from the ashes.

UDF: The United Democratic Front is an alliance of regional satraps – most are former Congressmen - brought together under one umbrella by the Indian National Congress. The arrangement works in everybody’s favour. The netas get to enjoy political power without having to follow the diktats from 10 Janpath and the Congress gets to maintain its vote bank.

Constituents: Indian National Congress, Kerala Congress, Indian Union Muslim League, Socialist Janata (Democratic) Party of MP Veerendra Kumar, Kerala Congress (B) of R Balakrishna Pillai, Kerala Congress (J) of TM Jacob, Janathipathya Samrakshana Samithy of KR Gowri Amma, Communist Marxist Party of MV Raghavan, Revolutionary Socialist Party (Baby John) of Shibu Baby John and Kerala Congress (Anti-merger Group) of PC Thomas.

Strengths: Most of the big ticket investments in the state in recent years have come from the UPA at the Centre. Dedicated vote banks in their respective areas of influence. Support from minorities. May favour from the states famed five-year itch – the electorate gives both the Fronts the chance to rule, alternatively.

Weaknesses: The strength of the UPA’s achievements can also turn out be the UDF’s biggest liability owing to the scam taint that has stuck to Manmohan Singh’s government. In Achuthanandan’s words, “What was happening at the Centre was a `kumbh mela` of corruption".

Adding to the woes of the UDF is the recent conviction of Kerala Congress (B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai in a corruption case and the resurfacing of the sex scandal allegedly involving IUML leader PK Kunhalikutty.

Chief ministerial aspirant Ommen Chandy being dragged into the Palmolein case is also a cause of worry.

Also party rebels like Shobhana George, T Siddique, M M Hassan, and others will upset the calculations in quite a few seats. Late K Karunakaran’s daughter Padmaja Venugopal has also raised a banner of revolt after her brother K Muralidheeran was favoured over her and given party ticket from Vattiyoorkavu in Trivandrum.

LDF: An alliance of the pro-Left and some anti-Congress parties, the Left Democratic Front forms one pole in Kerala politics, the other being UDF.

Constituents: Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Janata Dal (Secular), Nationalist Congress Party, Indian Congress (Socialist).

Strengths: VS Achuthanandan’s popularity and his crusader image. No evidence of huge anti-incumbency and the success of pro-people programmes such as distribution of rice at the rate of rupee two a kilogram.

Weaknesses: Achuthanandan Vs CPM

Left in Kerala not like the vintage Left, especially in context of the CPM, where a cadre based disciplinarian party follows the Politburo’s writ. Here, it has been forced to eat the humble pie.

Their very own 87-year-old crusader of many a battle has effectively shadow-boxed party apparatchiks. Call it the strength of Achuthanandan’s brand equity –as per a recent poll, 32% people want him back as CM – or his no nonsense stand when it came to tackling nepotism and corruption, VS has time and again proved that he is no pushover.

Moreover, he lasting a full term without the party or his cabinet colleagues lending a helping hand is no mean feat.

But the party had other plans. As in 2006, the party once again conspired to write his political obituary only to reverse its decision and announce his candidature from Malampuzha in Palakkad.

Here is a man, who kept “fighting and governing”; fighting his bête noire, state CPM secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and his supporters and governing with an iron hand – ordering the pulling down of arty office in Idukki during a demolition drive.

Like the mythical demon Bhasmasura, who after being granted a boon by Lord Shiva, that he could turn to ashes anything and everything that he touched, trained his guns on the Gods; Achutanandan owing to his credible grass-root support, believes -and has made people believe -that it is sometime before he can be counted among the down-and-outs.

However, the fact remains: Notwithstanding the drubbing it got in both the Lok Sabha and civic polls, the party has no alternative to VS.

Pinarayi Vijayan has many albatrosses around his neck, including corruption charges. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has no widespread acceptance, and…no other leader of consequence.

No matter how much they hate him, the crusader is perennially in the ‘born again’ state until Achuthanandan himself decides to fade into the oblivion.

Issues: Employment & Industrialisation

Like most other parameters of development, in Kerala, economics too carries a peculiar flavour. Riding on the robust 10% GDP growth clocked last year and the impressive betterment in the already robust social sector, the Left seems to be smug in its belief that things are on track.

But the fact remains that the buoyancy is primarily due to the Rs 200 billion of NRI remittances and to a limited extent because of the tourists that come, enchanted by ‘God’s Own Country’.

Capitalism has all along been an anathema to the Red Brigade. It is the employee not the employer who has the unflinching and at times unreasonable support of the red flag even if that means that lakhs of educated youth are left unemployed.

Besides the militant trade unionism, the ingrained social apathy towards blue collar jobs also adds to the sorry state of affairs in the state. The proud Keralite would happily do all sorts of jobs for the Sheikhs, not even whimper about the evident exploitation, but preposterously turn red when in his own land.

The Left front government’s policies are symptomatic of this affliction. Apart from a couple of central government sponsored projects and the attempts to rejuvenate some sick industrial units in the state, there is nothing worthwhile to speak of as achievements.

The only area where VS Achuthanandan can claim some success is the IT sector. With the Kochi ‘Smart City’ project on track and the expansion of the TechoPark in Thiruvananthapuram, things are looking up for the highly educated, but what about others?

For the record, Ommen Chandy says, if voted to power, the Congress will focus on creating more employment by pushing for investments. Let’s see.

Religiously fanatic
With close to 50% of the state’s population being “minority”, in popular parlance; Kerala has stayed, surprisingly, insulated from the type of religious polarisation as seen in most northern states. Christians and Muslims have had an equal, if not more, share of the opportunities that the state provided, including political power.

Some may argue that these communities achieved it on the basis of the petro/nursing dollars but the fact remains that Kerala society has always been secular and accommodative of conflicting points of view.

But that’s changing; religious fanatics are now a growing tribe. Be it the Hindutva brigade of Kannur or those who chopped of the hands of a professor for alleged blasphemy or others groups that want to increase the number of “believers” at all costs, things are slowly but surely changing for the worse.

Moreover, the emergence of Kerala as one of the cradles of jihadis and the covert support they enjoy among a section of the political class is a challenge to the democratic set-up. Groups like the Popular Front of India and Abdul Nasser Madani’s PDP have been vocal about their radical views.

Although the Left has, surprisingly, been vocal against the activities and agenda of the PFI with Achuthanandan asserting that PFI was aiming at `Islamisation of Kerala`, he said, "For achieving that goal, the outfit is pumping money to attract youth and give them weapons. They also try to convert youth from other communities and persuade them to marry Muslim girls."

The Indian Union Muslim League termed the statement as "dangerous" and "insulting the entire community", the UDF called the comments "deplorable".

While the Left’s stand does reek of double standards owing to their past ‘open embracement’ of Madani. As things stand, the Muslims would surely rally against them, the Christian lobby is also upset due to the attempts by Achuthanandan to rein in their multi-crore education business, a Hindu polarisation seems to be the only way out.

On the other hand, the UDF hopes to benefit from the minority polarisation.

However, no one seems to be worried about the after-effects of the subtle form of divisive politics that they practice and hope to gain from.

After note: As per a recent survey, others – primarily represented by the BJP in Kerala – are expected to garner 18% of the popular votes; which in turn, will translate into at least five Assembly seats – the first ever electoral victory for the saffron party is now well within sniffing distance.

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