As the Left Democratic Front, traditionally the front-runner in local elections in Kerala, enters the arena weakened by the departure of several allies, hope runs high in the rival United Democratic Front.
Most LDF deserters have found refuge in the UDF. Now it has to cope with the problem of finding seats for the newcomers.
The UDF was in a bad shape at the time of the last elections in 2005. The Congress had been weakened by the exit of former Chief Minister K Karunakaran and his son and former State Congress President K Muraleedharan. The LDF’s prospects improved as the Communist Party of India-Marxist having struck a deal with Karunakaran’s Democratic Indira Congress.
Factionalism in the Congress is under check. Karunakaran is back in the party. Muraleedharan has not been readmitted but he has publicly pledged support to the UDF.
MP Veerendrakumar’s Janata Dal, which has been rechristened Socialist Janata, is now a constituent of the UDF. The Congress has appealed to all allies to part with some seats for it. The appeal has not invoked any response.
With the merger of the Kerala Congress faction led by PJ Joseph, which was with the LDF for two decades, the Kerala Congress (Mani) has become the second largest UDF constituent, pushing the Indian Union Muslim League to third place. It has made known that it expects a larger share than in the last elections by virtue of its growth. The Congress party has asked it to accommodate the Joseph group in its quota.
The Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi of KR Gowri Amma and the Communist Marxist Party of MV Raghavan are also seeking more seats than last time. Gowri Amma recently hinted that she would explore alternatives if her party’s claims are ignored.
While the JSS remains in the UDF, Gowri Amma has been staying away from its meetings in protest against the Congress party’s failure to act against its members who had worked against her and her party colleagues in the last Assembly elections.
Gowri Amma and Raghavan floated their parties after being expelled from the CPI-M. Some CPI-M leaders, including Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, have resumed personal contacts with Gowri Amma in the recent past. The CPI has said its doors are open to her.
There is little chance of Gowri Amma returning to the CPI-M or the CPI, or the JSS becoming a constituent of the LDF. However, the possibility of a tactical alliance between the CPI-M and the JSS cannot be ruled out. The CPI-M has entered into such alliances with UDF partners in the past.
The Indian National League, a breakaway group of the Indian Union Muslim League, which worked closely with the LDF for many years, has moved over to the UDF camp. The Congress has already decided on an electoral understanding with it.
The delimitation of constituencies has resulted in an increase in the number of wards in various local bodies. However, this is not enough to satisfy the demands of all allies.
The UDF has said it will begin talks on seat allocation for the elections to the local self-government institutions on September 1.
Last week Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy and State Congress President Ramesh Chennithala did some tough talk apparently to set the tone for the negotiations which will be held at lower levels. The party also fielded two other leaders, former Speaker Vakkom Purushothaman and PT Thomas, MP, to counter the demands of the JSS and the Kerala Congress (M) respectively.
In theory, the two fronts divide the seats in proportion to the strength of the constituent parties. But who knows for certain the strength of the parties?
The LDF had won its big majority in the State Assembly in 2006 with only 48.63 per cent of the votes polled. The UDF did not get even half as many seats as the LDF but it had secured 42.98 per cent of the votes. A swing of the pendulum enabled the UDF to bag 16 of the state’s 20 Lok Sabha seats last year.
The CPI-M’s share of the votes polled in the Assembly elections was 30.45 per cent and the Congress party’s 24.09 per cent. These figures indicate that the parties which lead the two fronts together command only about 55 per cent of the votes. Both stand in desperate need of allies to win elections.