Monday, May 24, 2010

Fronts in disarray as polls approach

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The rival political fronts which have provided Kerala stable administrations during the past three decades are in disarray as the state moves into election mode again.

Two elections are due in the next 12 months. Elections to local bodies at village, town, block and district levels are to be held in September. State Assembly elections must take place by May next year. After that the state can look forward to two election-free years as the next Lok Sabha poll is due only in 2014.

The electoral performance of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress over their years presents a set pattern. While they alternate in power at state level, the LDF has an edge over the UDF in the local bodies elections and the UDF has an edge over the LDF in the parliamentary elections.

The UDF’s rout in the Lok Sabha elections marked a departure from the familiar pattern. Its impressive win in last year’s poll restored the pattern.

As the two fronts prepare for the local bodies elections, changes in their composition and re-emergence of factionalism in the CPI-M and the Congress have created an air of uncertainty.

Soon after the last Assembly elections, the LDF had expelled the National Congress Party to keep out former chief minister K Karunakaran and his son K Muraleedharan who had joined that party. The Janata Dal broke away from the alliance in the wake of differences which surfaced during the Lok Sabha elections. A few days ago the Kerala Congress (Joseph) walked out of the LDF to merge with the Kerala Congress (Mani), which is a constituent of the UDF.

The Indian National League, which has been an informal ally of the LDF since it broke away from the Indian Union Muslim League, is in negotiations for return to the parent body.

Following the national leadership’s assessment that the camaraderie with Abdul Naser Mahdani’s People’s Democratic Party harmed the party in the Lok Sabha elections, the CPI-M has been distancing itself from it. After this month’s police action at Kinaloor the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has generally backed the LDF in elections during the past several years, has moved away from it and the CPI-M has branded it as an extremist group.

The CPI-M itself suffered a setback when three former MPs, AP Abdullakutty, KS Manoj and S Sivaraman quit the party to enter the Congress. Abdullakutty is now a Congress member of the Assembly.

While these former MPs are not political heavyweights the fact that they belong to the Muslim, Christian and Dalit communities has electoral significance.

Recent public statements of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan show that they are still locked in combat. Several days have passed since Vijayan got the State Committee to reiterate the choice of CP Narayanan as the chief minister’s political secretary, overriding Achuthanandan’s objections. The chief minister is yet to sign Narayanan’s appointment order.

If the LDF has suffered as a result of desertions, the UDF is suffering as a result of accretions. Having admitted the Janata Dal as a constituent, the UDF has to accommodate it in the coming elections. The Congress has voiced reservations over merger of the Mani and Joseph factions as the unified Kerala Congress will demand more seats.

Personal ambitions appear to have strained the relationship between Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy and Pradesh Congress President Ramesh Chennithala who had worked closely together during the past few years, opening up the possibility of new alignments within party. K Karunakaran, who is back in the Congress, is nursing two grievances. Muraleedharan has still not been readmitted, and those who returned with him have not been accommodated honourably.

As they grapple with these problems, the fronts, particularly the parties, which lead them, have to take into account the impact of the increase in women’s representation in the local bodies from 33 per cent to 50 per cent and the possibility of several new players entering the poll arena.

The CPI-M, which is retaining in the LDF some remnants of the parties, which walked out in recent years, is looking for new allies to cover the losses and improve its prospects in the local bodies elections. The minorities having turned away, it is trying to woo the Hindus. India Today’s perspicacious correspondent MG Radhakrishnan says, “The CPI-M’s best hope lies in the religious hunger for consolidation of the majority community.” – Gulf Today, May 24, 2010