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regular-article-logo Monday, 22 July 2024

Blown off course

SOUTHERN SKIES || Without convincing corrections and with Pri­yanka Gandhi Vadra contesting the by-election in Wayanad, the LDF is undoubtedly in for even stronger headwinds

M.G. Radhakrishnan Published 24.06.24, 06:56 AM
Pinarayi Vijayan

Pinarayi Vijayan Sourced by The Telegraph

The popular Malayalam film, Sandesham (The Message, 1991), was a scathing satire on the moral degeneration of political parties. Although some found the film’s black humour dangerously anti-political, many of its references became lasting metaphors in the popular imagination. A particularly hilarious scene was that of a communist leader’s convoluted theoretical exercise explaining the party’s electoral debacle. Browbeaten by the harangue, an ordinary party worker rises up and asks: “Please, comrade, can you tell us simply why we lost?”

This is now the most frequently asked question that the leaders of the ruling Left Democratic Front face from their shocked cadres after the Lok Sabha elections. The state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), M.V. Govindan, loves to evoke dialectical materialism even when discussing simple things. However, the current drubbing made even him admit to its enormity. The LDF has won only one of the 20 seats, as it did in 2019. Although it falls behind the Congress-led United Democratic Front in most Lok Sabha elections, such a severe thrashing twice in a row has been unprecedented. While the UDF won 18 seats — one less than last time — the Bharatiya Janata Party ended its jinx in the ‘last secular bastion’ by grabbing its first win in history through the actor-politician, Suresh Gopi, in Thrissur with a stunning majority (74,686 votes). The National Democratic Alliance increased its vote share in almost all seats to raise its overall share by nearly 5%.

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“Undesirable and self-defeating bourgeois capitalist traits have crept into the party and the government, leading to some misplaced priorities,” Govindan said at a public meeting while explaining the defeat. The secretary’s words were markedly different from those of the chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, who initially held that the defeat would be studied and defects be corrected but later dismissed any anti-incumbency wave against his three-year-old government. “Voters found Congress better positioned to oust the BJP at the centre,” he stated in the state assembly. Vijayan asked his detractors not to forget that he led the LDF to power for the second consecutive term two years after its defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He also argued to prove that the BJP’s “dangerous” win in Thrissur was mainly due to the UDF’s votes shifting to Gopi.

Subsequently, the CPI(M) State Committee and Secretariat held a five-day huddle for a post-mortem of its debacle in the country’s last red citadel. The media speculated that it would witness some unusual plain-speaking against the government, particularly the chief minister. Even though there was an admission of failure to “understand the people’s pulse”, the reasons found for the defeat were anything but routine. It seemed more like an exercise in scapegoating than an honest self-analysis. Secular-minded voters found the Congress more capable than the Left of defeating the BJP at the Centre; the UDF’s alliance with Muslim extremist outfits; the state government defaulting in welfare pension payments owing to the Centre’s refusal to disburse funds; the shift of Ezhava (an other backward class) and Christian votes to the BJP. The recovery plan is even less remarkable — send leaders to hold mass contact programmes across the state to know what went wrong and to correct people’s misconceptions.

While explaining the analysis to the media, Govindan said that the party would correct every personal and political mistake. Yet he dismissed the allegations against the chief minister as insignificant.

“How can a person’s characteristics acquired through time be changed suddenly?” was Govindan’s response when asked if Vijayan would alter his ways since it is being alleged that his arrogance and refusal to answer the corruption charges against his daughter contributed most to the defeat. “Wasn’t his style what brought us to power last time?” Govindan countered. After the 2019 beating, Vijayan himself had said that he would never change his ways. However, on June 21, Sitaram Yechury, the CPI(M) general-secretary, told the media in Calcutta that charges against Vijayan will also be discussed when the party’s central committee meets on June 28 to analyse the results.

Many feel that Vijayan’s authoritarian ways and him being the party’s only chief minister have rendered even the politburo submissive to him. The historian, Ramachandra Guha, on a recent visit to Kerala, called Vijayan the most authoritarian communist chief minister in Indian history. “He is a Modi in mundu as Mamata Banerjee is a Modi in saree, Arvind Kejriwal is a Modi in a bush shirt or Naveen Patnaik a Modi in a white dhoti,” Guha said.

Vijayan’s ‘style’ was on display even after the present debacle. A few days after the results, he referred to a prominent Christian priest as an “idiot” for asking the government to learn lessons from the defeat. Vijayan was particularly peeved by the priest’s comment that the LDF should not expect floods and pandemics to help it win, like it did in 2021, continually. Ironically, the priest, Geevarghese Coorilos, a Metropolitan with the Jacobite Orthodox Syrian Church, has been the only prominent Christian theologian publicly aligned with the CPI(M). He is the last among the ‘red clerics’, inspired by the Latin American Liberation Theology, as opposed to the Kerala churches’ traditional anti-communism. “My heart will always be with the Left,” said Coorilos, even after Vijayan’s castigation.

Both the UDF and the LDF lost votes leading to the NDA’s vote rising from 15.64% in 2019 to 19.2%. A CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey showed that the NDA’s votes primarily came from the upper caste Nairs (45%), the Ezhavas (32%) and the Christians (5%). While the rise in Nair (2%) and Christian (3%) votes must have been mainly at UDF’s cost, the whopping 11% Ezhava votes shocked the Left as the community is its backbone. The LDF lost heavily in most of its bastions, which saw the defeat of prominent leaders like the politburo member, A. Vijayaraghavan, the former finance minister, Thomas Isaac, and the former health minister, K.K. Shailaja, once praised as the “corona slayer” for her leading role in the state’s resistance against the pandemic. The Left failed to woo Muslim voters despite its consistent espousal of minority issues and critics found it to have alienated the Hindus and Christians too. The Ezhava leader, Vellappally Natesan, held the ‘Muslim appeasement’ of both the UDF and LDF for his community’s shift to the BJP. The Left’s only win was in the reserved Alathur constituency thanks to its popular candidate, the state minister of temple affairs, K. Radhakrishnan.

The UDF surpassed its expectations by notching up margins above one lakh in 10 seats, with Rahul Gandhi in the lead in Wayanad with 3,64,422 votes. The NDA gained impressive vote shares even where former Central ministers like Rajeev Chandrasekhar and V. Muraleedharan lost and came first in as many as 11 assembly segments.

The results hold serious political implications for Kerala, where the UDF-LDF duopoly seems to be at an end with the NDA’s advance. A string of elections is around the corner, once again. The most immedia­te are the by-elections in Wayanad, a seat vacated by Rahul Gandhi, and the two assembly seats given up by the CPI(M) and Congress members to contest the Lok Sabha. These will be followed by polls to the local bodies next year and the assembly elections in 2025. Without convincing corrections and with Pri­yanka Gandhi Vadra contesting the by-election in Wayanad, the LDF is undoubtedly in for even stronger headwinds.

M.G. Radhakrishnan, a senior journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram, has worked with various print and electronic media organisations

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