By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s finest hour. A veritable Left tsunami saw the opposition – the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP-headed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – being blown off the electoral landscape. The remarkable victory in the teeth of adversity and against heavy odds was fashioned by Pinarayi, who has emerged as the tallest Left leader not only in the state but also in the country. The splendid victory – a repeat of the local body election result – could see a new addition to the political lexicon – Pinarayism. In the process, the Chief Minister has created history by winning a second consecutive term in office after helming the state for five years and bucking the trend of alternating between governments every five years.
The spectacular LDF victory with an impressive tally of 99 out of 140 seats is a ringing endorsement of the five-year performance of the LDF Government and the strong leadership provided by Pinarayi Vijayan in times of crisis. The State has taken a firmer left turn. It has reddened further proving wrong the prophets of doom who had predicted that the last Left bastion will collapse like a pack of cards and be dumped in the Arabian Sea. Left is right and very much relevant. That is the unmistakable electoral message.
The splendid victory was scripted by a judicious blend of welfare measures and the development theme over the five years. The efficient handling of a succession of calamities like Nipah, Okhi cyclone, 2018 flood and Covid-19 stood the LDF in good stead and helped it to retain power. The welfare measures like increased pension, its delivery at the doorsteps and the free food kit influenced the voting pattern in a decisive way. The immensely popular food kit enabled the poor and downtrodden in particular to survive in an extremely difficult milieu.
We stood by the people in their hour of crisis and they stood by us. These words of Pinarayi aptly sums up the situation. The people have emphatically said that the State needs a strong leader to overcome the formidable and frightening array of problems. Pinarayi proved his mettle and led from the front. A grateful people gave him a firm verdict to helm the state and steer it through troubled times ahead.
The results show that LDF swept 11 out of the 14 districts. The opposition did well only in Malappuram, Ernakulam and Wayanad districts. All ministers except one – Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma – won with thumping majorities. Pinarayi himself romped home by a margin of over 50,000 votes. And the biggest majority of over 61,000 votes secured by Health Minister K K Shailaja is a recognition of her performance in countering covid. Mercykutty lost because of the controversy over deep-sea fishing deal with a US-based firm.
On the other hand, the defeat of Jose K Mani, chairman of the Kerala Congress(M), in the prestigious Pala seat, has come as a shock to the LDF. Though the KC(M) won five out of the 12 seats it contested, the chairman’s failure to make it to the Assembly is a bitter pill to swallow. Jose has attributed his defeat to the deal between the Congress and the BJP. But he can draw comfort from the fact that the party’s entry to the LDF helped the front to improve its performance in central Kerala.
Another dampener was the defeat of Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) chief M V Shreyamskumar in Kalpetta constituency in Wayanad district, a sitting seat of the LDF. Kumar lost to T. Siddique, who is the president of the Kozhikode District Congress Committee. The loss of Vadakara seat in Kozhikode district to KK Rema of the Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) must also hurt the CPI(M). It was a prestigious battle in which the widow of TP Chandrashekharan who was brutally murdered a few years ago, worsted the LDF candidate Manayat Chandran.
The poll debacle has put a big question mark over the future of the Congress and the cohesion and stability of the UDF led by the party. Demands for a change in leadership will gather force in the days to come. K. Babu, who belongs to the A group led by Oommen Chandy, has fired the first salvo by saying that those responsible for the humiliating defeat have a lot to answer. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran must step down and make way for more dynamic leaders to take over. Chennithala’s performance as opposition leader is not all that bad. On many issues, he managed to rattle the Government and forced it to change its stance. But the Congress’s failure to present an alternative vision of development for the State and the politics of negativism did it in. Last but not the least, the party must revamp its weak organizational structure. The party has to be reorganized from the top to the booth level. Most importantly, it must elect a new president for the state unit and not impose him/her from the Centre. That way alone lies salvation for the party. Any delay in doing that could cause the disintegration of the Congress, which is not in the interest of lasting political equilibrium. That the BJP has also been badly battered is no consolation for the Congress. The party must also regain the trust of the Christian voters – once its backbone – a big slice of which has deserted it because of its total subservience to the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Last but not the least, the Congress has no option but to return to the basics: re-establish the lost connectivity to the people.
The red tsunami has battered the BJP, which was hopeful of improving its performance and emerging as a decisive third force in the State. Not only has the party failed to improve its show but it has lost its only seat, Nemom, in the Assembly. The failure of BJP state president K Surendran in both the constituencies he had contested from – Manjeswaram and Konni – is a bitter pill to swallow for the party. The failure of Kummanam Rajasekharan to win from Nemom, the defeat of Metroman E Sreedharan from Palakkad and super star Suresh Gopi in Thrissur will also rankle for a long time. Its vote share is also likely to come down from the 15 per cent it had at its command. Surendran will find it hard to explain to the central leadership. Campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda also failed to impress the voters. The message to the BJP is loud and clear: the communal plant transplants badly in the Kerala’s secular soil. Politics of religious polarisation has no place in Kerala, known for its strong secular credentials and pluralistic ethos. The BJP must reinvent itself or perish.
As for the future, it is clear that the task ahead for the new Government is daunting indeed. There is a bewildering array of problems to handle and overcome. The most prominent of them is the challenge posed by the rampaging pandemic and the need to raise resources to manage an extremely difficult situation. The spectre of rising unemployment is another problem which brooks no delay. But the ‘Captain’ is back at the helm, strengthened by a fresh and bigger mandate. Pinarayi has struck the right note by saying that this is not the time for celebrations and appealing to the opposition to join in the gigantic effort needed to overcome the challenges ahead. Need of the hour is unity in the face of adversity. Politics and polemics can wait for better times. (IPA Service)