MASTER-STROKE … LDF balances communal equations; confident of retaining power after 2021 assembly polls


By Prem Chandran

KOCHI: Kerala’s Marxist chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is ready for the kill. Nearing the doorsteps of the assembly elections coming at the end of his five-year term as head of the Left Democratic Front since 2016 June, Vijayan smiled broadly on Wednesday as he quietly engineered the entry of regional political outfit, the Kerala Congress(Mani), into the ruling alliance. This helped firm up a fresh support base for the government, the LDF, and the CPIM.

It is well-acknowledged that, traditionally, the KCM has considerable influence in central Travancore region spread over the five districts of Kottayam, Idukki, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, and Ernakulam. The party is the political arm of the Catholic church in the agrarian and rubber plantation belts and beyond since the mid-1960s. Christians in general have a soft corner to several of the KC factions.

For over half a century, the Kerala Congress led by veteran KM Mani, an advocate-turned politician who remained calm and composed even in his twilight years, called the main shots in the region with strong Church support. A bar bribe case did him in and led to his exit from the last UDF government. It, though, was clear that all political party leaders get similar funds from the liquor lobby. But, the CPIM and the Left used the scandal to politically fix the UDF and Mani. Some leaders in the UDF too seemed to have enjoyed the trouble that Mani went through. His son says the UDF cheated Mani.

The jury is out as to whether Jose K Mani, a Rajya Sabha MP who succeeded his father a year ago to claim the mantle of their political base in Pala, if not of the KCM altogether, will be able to keep his folk together.

When Jose announced the decision to join the LDF, significant was the absence of several of the front-line leaders of the party at the press conference. Quite a few might now side with the rival faction of the party led by veteran former minister PJ Joseph, who retains with him a rare strength to fight back and withstand odds. Joseph is 78; smart Jose is aged 55 and in the best of health.

The future, many in the party reckon, is with Jose. His alliance with the CPIM is seen as a politically wise decision if only he is able to convince his folk and the Church that he is doing the right thing. Jose would not have taken the bold step without a tacit nod from the Church leadership. Yet, defections from his side could be expected. What might act as a dampener to them is the political environment in the state that is slightly in favour of the LDF overall.

Despite some hard push by the Opposition to corner the government, it still has no stick to strongly beat the government with.

No charge could be established against the Pinarayi-led dispensation yet. Overall, LDF ministers have conducted themselves in a highly responsible manner through the entire term. Unlike the UDF term, corruption at the political level was under some control. For instance, PWD is a generally corrupt department. The leadership of a clean politician like G Sudhakaran made a big difference to it. So with EP Jayarajan who handled the Industries ministry. The CPI ministers too conducted themselves with dignity. Those like health minister KK Shailaja too brought a good name to the government.

Feelings are that the Opposition is beating around the bush and putting up a show only to gain the upper hand in the approaching season of assembly polls.

Perceptions are also that the LDF government has been doing a good job in matters of infra development with a vision to modernize the state. Several projects have been completed; some of which having been stared during the term of the previous UDF governments; and some started by this government. It has done a good job on the social welfare sector too. Electricity minister MM Mani too managed to push projects of the ministry with rare grit and determination. So did schools minister C Ravindranath and higher education minister KT Jaleel.

This apart, the Congress party that leads the UDF is facing serious erosion from its ranks to the BJP. With a substantial segment of the Kerala Congress too leaving the UDF and joining the LDF fold, communal arithmetic too suits the ruling alliance in the coming polls – first to the civic bodies in November and later the assembly polls in April-May. The civic polls could give a clear idea as to the mood that is currently building up in the state vis-à-vis political support.

Traditionally, the two fronts alternate in government with successive polls; but if the trend is broken now, that could also spell disaster for the Congress-led political establishment in the long run too. The slow but steady rise of the BJP in the state meant sooner or later the two-front formula in Kerala would collapse. The weak positioning of the Congress at the national level is also dampening the spirits of the Congressmen in the state. By contrast, the CPIM being a cadre-based party might hold on; unlike the hit the party took in West Bengal and Tripura in recent years.

There are many who feel that the UDF might, after all, return to power in the next elections. The natural tendency of Keralites is to get tired of a political front after a five-year term, and they opt for the other side the next time. It is here that hope is pinned on the UDF this time too, despite the odds it is facing.

The leadership issue in the UDF might not be ticklish after the next polls. Two senior hands for the CM post are Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala from the Congress. Chandy is unlikely to stake claim for the post again. Ramesh Chennithala could be the unanimous choice for the UDF on condition that the Congress gets the largest share of seats.

Those who closely watch the electoral performance of parties in successive polls say the IUML cannot hope to get more than its present strength. If so, Chennithala could laugh his way to government as the next CM. The Nair community he represents did not have a CM for many years now. This also should strengthen Chennithala’s case for CM post.

Ommen Chandy has not ruled himself out of the contest, though. Antony had made it clear he would not return to state politics. Congress leadership requires him in Delhi. Antony is 79 and Chandy 76, while Chennithala is only 64. He had hoped to be the CM last time, in 2011 when the UDF wrested power. The lot went in favour of Chandy. –EI-NN


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