Monday, March 30, 2009

Claims and counter-claims leave voters confused

Gulf Today

As the Lok Sabha poll enters the final phase, the high-pitched campaigns of Kerala's two electoral fronts, which are fairly well matched in terms of popular support, are generating more heat than light. Nominations in the state, which goes to the polls on April 16, closes on Monday.

Most of the candidates of the Left Democratic Front(LDF) and the United Democratic Front(UDF) and the parties outside these alliances have filed their nomination papers.

However, the final line-up will be known only on Thursday, the last day for withdrawal of nominations.

Last week the decibel level of the campaigns rose as both the LDF and the UDF held a series of constituency-level conventions, where they hurled charges against each other.

The news channel debates provided candidates of the two fronts as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) the opportunity to present their cases before the public.

Early on, the media focused attention on the ties the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) had forged with the People's Democratic Party(PDP) of Abdul Naser Ma'dani, much to the annoyance of its LDF partners, the Communist Party of Idia(CPI) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party(RSP).

Since his acquittal in the Coimbatore bomb blast case, after being in jail for more than nine years as an undertrial prisoner, Ma'dani has made Malappuram his main area of activity, raising a direct challenge to the Indian Union Muslim League(IUML), which has been the major political force in the Muslim-majority district since Independence.

Mahdani played a key role in the CPI-M's decision to put up Husain Randathani, a college principal, as the LDF-backed independent candidate in Ponnani.

He was the star attraction at the LDF convention in that constituency, which was inaugurated by CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

There was a spate of reports in the media, based on statements reportedly made by some youths during police interrogation, alleging that suspected terrorists had contacts with Ma'dani or his wife.

It is not clear how the testimony, which was recorded by the police months ago, reached the media at election time.

The Ma'dani connection cast its shadow on the CPI-M and the state government too.

While Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the allegations against the PDP leader were not new and there was no need for any investigation, Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan said the allegations would be investigated.

Ma'dani, on his part, said he was ready to face any investigation.

The CPI-M national leadership stood by the state unit's electoral understanding with the PDP but found it necessary to declare that there was no proposal to admit it into the LDF.

The Mahdani factor put the CPI-M on the defensive.

But, more importantly, it diverted popular attention from other issues which were expected to dominate the campaigns of the two fronts.

At week's end, both sides were trying to shift the focus to other issues.

In a bid to turn the spotlight on the Lavalin case, a UDF delegation met Governor RS Gavai to complain about the inordinate delay in responding to the Central Bureau of Investigation's request for permission to prosecute Pinarayi Vijayan, whom it has named as an accused in the corruption case.

There were indications earlier that the UDF would take full advantage of the Lavalin case, which is the first corruption case in which a CPI-M Politburo member has been named as an accused.

It had described Lavalin as an even greater scandal than Bofors.

With the news of a suspicious arms deal with Israel breaking, the LDF believes it has a powerful weapon with which to counter the Lavalin scandal.

The Israeli deal is twice as large as the Lavalin contract.

All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi, on a visit to Kerala early this month, claimed that the Congress-led government at the Centre had sanctioned the state schemes worth Rs 400 billion during the past years, but the LDF government here was no able to deliver the goods. He did not specify the schemes.

In this year's budget, finance minister TM Thomas Isaac announced that the state would make investments to the tune of Rs100 billion. He too did not specify the schemes.

Campaigners on both sides fling these figures in election speeches.

Is Abdul Naser Ma'dani an extremist? Was there corruption in the Lavalin deal? Has the Centre given Kerala a few hundred billions? Is the state government investing 100 billion? Amid the claims and counter-claims of the campaigners, answers to such questions elude the voters.

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