The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front, has gone into election mode following the collapse of the pact between the Left Front and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre.
It was in 2005 that the Left Front, of which the CPI-M is the major partner, decided to support a UPA government from outside, on the basis of a common minimum programme, to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party's return to power.
The camaraderie with the Congress in New Delhi was a source of discomfiture to the State CPI-M since that party is its traditional rival in Kerala. It could not lose sight of the fact that at election time it would have to ask the people to vote for it, rejecting the Congress.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, the CPI-M and its allies had given a sterling performance, winning 18 of the State's 20 seats. The Congress drew a blank. However, its ally, the Muslim League, managed to win a seat.
Former Kerala Congress leader PC Thomas won one seat for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. He is now a part of the LDF, his party having merged in the Kerala Congress (Joseph).
The Left's decision to withdraw its support to the UPA government over the issue of the civilian nuclear deal with the United States has freed the CPI-M from the embarrassment of having to face the electorate as a supporter of the Congress at the Centre. The party has already started attacking the Congress viciously not only on the nuclear issue but also a number of other issues like price rise.
Although during the past four years the Left was able to persuade the UPA government to take several steps in terms of the common minimum programme and dissuade it from taking some steps which it did not like, the party's leaders now talk as though it was anti-people regime.
If the Central government loses the confidence vote, scheduled for next week, immediate elections will become necessary as there is little chance of the present Lok Sabha throwing up an alternative government.
Even if it wins the confidence vote, with the help of the Samajwadi Party and smaller parties who are eager to prevent early elections, the Congress is expected to make a bid for a fresh mandate later this year, when it expects favourable conditions to emerge.
Since the inflation rate has been in two digits for several weeks, price rise is perhaps the best stick to beat the government with. However, the CPI-M is wary of relying on it as it can boomerang. As the party which heads the State administration, it is certain to face questions about rise in bus fares, power tariff and water tax.
Political observers take a dim view of the usefulness of nuclear policy as an election issue as it is a complex matter and the voters may not understand its implications fully. Yet there are indications that the CPI-M plans to make its opposition to the Indo-US deal a major electoral plank at least in Kerala.
Before rising for the weekend, the party pushed through the Legislative Assembly a resolution opposing the nuclear deal, although, not being a State subject, the house is not competent to discuss it. The debate provided ample opportunity to use anti-American rhetoric, which goes down well with the party's traditional supporters.
The party evidently believes that the anti-American slant will help the party to enhance its appeal among the Muslims, who constitute an estimated 25% of the State's population.
The Muslim League, which is a major force in the Muslim-majority areas, is a constituent of the UDF in the State and the UPA at the Centre, and its nominee, E.Ahamed, is minister of state for external affairs. It is under pressure to pull him out.
When the Samajwadi Party decided to support the UPA on the nuclear issue, CPI-M Politburo member MK Pandhe warned that it would lose the support of Muslims if it did so. General secretary Prakash Karat clarified that the party did not consider the nuclear deal a Muslim issue.
Yet Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, both Politburo members, last week described the Indo-US deal as one that runs counter to the interests of the Muslims. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 14, 2008.