Congressís Oommen Chandy celebrates the victory in Kochi on Friday. (PTI)
Malayalees have once again proved that they stick by tradition. In yet another election in Kerala, an incumbent government has been voted out.
In a ding-dong battle, the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) pipped the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) to the post by just four seats. Though the UDF has increased its tally of 42 in the outgoing Assembly to 72 in this new edition, the fronts victory is nothing but pyrrhic. And for this, Kerala will have to pay an enormous price, both economically and politically.
However, the real winner of this election is undoubtedly chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan. Battered in the last Lok Sabha hustings and bruised in the panchayat polls prior to the run-up to this 13th Assembly election, the Marxists-led LDF was nowhere in the picture. But through some heroic and quixotic attacks and shrewd political manoeuvring, Achuthanandan hoisted himself on the charioteers seat and has restored some pride for the LDF by securing 68 seats in the 140-member Assembly, with the CPM getting 35 seats and emerging as the single-largest party.
At a news conference today, the chief minister announced that he would be putting in his papers and made it clear that the LDF wont stake claim to form the government, though his party secretary and arch-rival Pinarayi Vijayan described the UDF victory as merely technical. Only time will tell whether the Left Front will try to woo some splinter parties which had deserted them and have now gained on the other side.
On paper, the UDF may have won the elections, but this is going to be a crucial period for its existence. No doubt, the first hurdle will be the formation and composition of the government. The major partner Congress is riven by factionalism. If it is a two-front war within the CPM, in the Congress it is a foursome tussle.
Each one of these power-hungry groups is going to demand its pound of flesh. It will be a Herculean task for their leader, be it Oommen Chandy or Ramesh Chennithala, to appease them. One thing is certain. The factional genie which had been somewhat put back into the bottle through the efforts of Union defence minister A.K. Antony and the death of veteran K. Karunakaran will break loose in all its fury.
Within the UDF, the Muslim League has emerged as the biggest gainer, bagging 20 of the 24 seats it contested. They are hard taskmasters when it comes to bargaining. In the month after the elections and before the verdict was announced, there has been lot of kite flying ó the main being deputy chief ministership for the party in the event of victory. And, of course, they are bound to demand the education ministry with an eye on the communitys interests .
Another thorn in the victory flesh for the Congress is the Kerala Congress led by the evergreen K.M. Mani ó the real joker in the pack. Even at the time of seat allocations, there were apprehensions that he would jump the fence. It was after protracted and bitter bargaining, with the League leader P.K. Kunhalikutty strangely enough playing midwife, that the Congress could somehow pacify Mani.
Now with nine seats and no ideological commitments per se, the biggest question is how long Mani will remain faithful to the UDF. The other splinter parties such as the Socialist Janata Dal and even one-man parties are not going to lie low. By accommodating all of them, perhaps, Kerala will have a jumbo ministry for the first time in its history.
Though it has emerged as the largest party, the CPM is in for a whirlwind of change. The official faction that so far had the upper hand has got a mauling in its strongholds of Kannur and Palakkad. Kannur, the killing fields of Kerala, is the home turf of Pinarayi Vijayan and his coterie. Achuthanandan is sure not to overlook this, especially when the party has done well in his home district, Alappuzha.
In fact, it was with the succumbing of the Alappuzha district committee to the official faction that the grip of Achuthanandans hold on the party apparatus weakened. Achuthanandan does not belong to the likes who forgets and forgives. Pinarayi and company know that well. This will be all the more driven home with their mentor in Delhi, party general secretary Prakash Karat, too, feeling the heat following the rout in Bengal. No doubt, borders will be redrawn within the state CPM and Achuthanandan may make a comeback into the politburo.
Whoever emerges as the UDFs chief ministerial candidate would probably be dreading his fate. Achuthanandan in the Opposition Leaders chair will be a more lethal customer than in the chief ministers gaddi. He has already vowed that he would pursue corruption charges against the UDF leaders with more vigour, as well as intensify his crusade against atrocities on women. He will ensure that the treasury benches face a harrowing time within the House.
Public memory is short. So Achuthanandan will get away with all the lapses during his five-year rule. And outside the Assembly, the CPM cadres will ensure that the ruling government does not function at all. Hartals are going to be a weekly affair and political violence will take a bloodier turn. The police force and bureaucracy will once again be caught in the middle. In the melee, Kerala is bound to slump further in every sense.