The Congress, which heads the coalition government in New Delhi, and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the government of Kerala, are troubled by internal dissensions as they prepare for the parliamentary elections.
All elections in the State are a trial of strength between the Left Democratic Front, led by the CPI-M, and the United Democratic Front, led by the Congress. In the Assembly elections, the voters put the two fronts in power by turns. The results of the parliamentary elections are not equally predictable.
Traditionally, the Congress-led front has an edge over the rival alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. However, in the elections of 2004, the LDF grabbed 18 of the state’s 20 seats, leaving one seat each to the UDF and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.
In the Lok Sabha, all LDF members supported the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in pursuance of the Left parties’ decision to back it with a view to preventing the BJP’s return to power.
Last year the Left parties withdrew their support to the UPA as the government went ahead with the civilian nuclear agreement with the United States, brushing aside their objections.
The break with the UPA has saved the CPI-M from the embarrassment of having to approach voters in Kerala as an ally of the Congress, its traditional rival in state politics.
The outcome of the next Lok Sabha elections, expected to be held in April-May, is very important to both the Congress and the CPI-M.
The Congress, which drew a blank last time (the lone UDF seat was won by the Indian Union Muslim League), has to show that it is still a force to reckon with in the state.
The CPI-M needs a respectable tally from the state, one of its three strongholds, to realise its dream of forging a third alternative capable of keeping the Congress and the BJP out of power at the Centre.
The party faces a severe internal challenge as a result of the return of sectarianism, which appeared to have subsided after the state conference, held last year. The dissidents are few in number but have the potential to damage the party’s prospects, as evidenced by the results of the by-elections to the Shoranur municipal council.
When MR Murali, former municipal vice-chairman, was expelled from the party last year, he and eight other councillors resigned. They contested the by-elections that followed on the banner of Janakeeya Vikasana Samiti and trounced all but one of the CPI-M nominees.
When the Samiti members take their seats, the CPI-M, which it has controlled the Shoranur municipality for three decades, will lose power. So far the authorities have not set a date for their swearing-in.
Further north, at Onchiyam, another CPI-M stronghold, dissidents have come out of the party and floated an outfit named Marxist Party.
The rebels at both places are erstwhile supporters of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. The revolt can, therefore, be seen as a spill-over of the sectarianism. Their defiance indicates the willingness of lower-level functionaries to challenge the state leadership. This is something unheard of in the history of communist parties.
The Congress, too, is dogged by internal problems. Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy and State party president Ramesh Chennithala, the duo in command of the party, had a quiet time after K. Karunakaran and his son, K. Muraleedharan, walked out with their followers. After a brief spell as a regional outfit, they joined Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.
Last year Karunakaran returned to the Congress fold while Muraleedharan, who is state NCP president, stayed back.
Karunakaran’s return did not change the equations in the state Congress. Nor did it lead to revival of factionalism. However, he is openly seeking the NCP’s induction into the UDF. Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala are resisting the demand.
Muraleedharan is threatening to contest all Lok Sabha seats if the UDF does not accommodate the NCP. The party may not be a winner, but it can be a spoiler.
In the prevailing circumstances, the CPI-M cannot hope to repeat the spectacular performance of 2004. It may be VS Achuthanandan, and not Pinarayi Vijayan, who has to pay the price for the party’s failure. The party can interpret the poor electoral performance as a sign of dissatisfaction with the government’s working.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 5, 2008.