India is a democracy under our Constitution and so is Kerala, which is a state in India. Yet, as the people of Kerala get ready to exercise their right of franchise, they are being deliberately kept in the dark about the choice they are supposed to make.
Of course we have three fronts – UDF, LDF and NDA – vying for power and we are given the opportunity to vote for a candidate belonging to one or the other of these fronts. The name of a political party or the colourless and soon-forgotten manifesto issued by it, however, does not give any indication of the kind of government that the party will provide if it is voted to power.
In Kerala, we have seen how different the government was under one chief minister or other belonging to the same political party. The Congress government with Karunakaran as the chief minister was not the same as the Congress government with Antony as the chief minister. Similarly, the Marxist government with Nayanar as the chief minister was different from the Marxist government with Achuthanandan as the chief minister. Do we not have the right to know before we make the choice who will be the chief minister if the front we are voting for comes to power?
Imagine voting for Pinarayi Vijayan and getting Achuthanandan as the chief minister, or voting for Oommen Chandy and getting Sudheeran as the chief minister. At the ripe old age of 72, I no longer have any personal ambitions but I do care about the fate of my state and I will feel cheated if I am confronted with a fait accompli contrary to my expectation after the elections.
If we are told that the choice is between Achuthanandan and Oommen Chandy, it will be a no brainer who any right thinking citizen of the state should prefer: the development-minded chief minister will easily beat the incompetent nonagenarian.
If we are to choose between Pinarayi Vijayan and V.M.Sudheeran, it will be equally simple: Pinarayi, the man who has proved his credentials as a competent administrator and effective leader, will easily tower over the self- righteous demolition man. If we are to choose between Pinarayi and Oommen Chandy, it will be a very tough one. Both are equally good leaders and competent administrators.
Neither of them is a hypocrite like Achuthanandan or Sudheeran. Both have more strengths than weaknesses but their areas of strengths and weaknesses are different, probably in line with the character of the parties they lead.
The argument advanced by the parties leading the fronts against naming the chief ministerial candidate is quite ingenious: the principle of democracy demands that the leader of the legislature party should be elected by the MLAs who, in turn, are elected by the people. The hypocrisy behind this argument becomes quite obvious when we look at the manner in which a decision in this regard is actually imposed on the legislature party by the PB (Politburo) or available PB in the case of CPM, and the phantom high command in the case of Congress.
When Prakash Karat was the CPI(M) general secretary, the available PB mostly consisted of Karat himself, his wife and their permanent acolyte S. Ramachandran Pillai. The Congress high command consists of two people: Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi. Is this democracy? If a referendum is taken in Kerala, 99.99 per cent of the people will emphatically state that neither the CPI(M) Politburo nor the Congress high command represent them and neither has any right to impose on the state their chosen candidate as the chief minister.
Now, look at the international practice. Leave aside the USA and France who have adopted the presidential form of government. In almost every country where parliamentary form of government is practised in the true sense, every political party projects a person as its leader while seeking the people’s mandate so that the people know who they are voting for. In none of the mature parliamentary democracies, a political party will seek electoral mandate saying that a decision on the leadership issue will be taken after the election by the elected representatives.
No doubt mid-term change of leadership happens in many countries. That is a different matter. Such changes never happen immediately after an election. Neither is the leadership question decided by some phantom authority like high command or PB. It may so happen that midway through the term the elected representatives find that the leader has become personally unpopular and needs to be changed. If such a situation arises, the elected representatives of the people may make mid-term changes of leadership without going for a general election.
What is relevant to us is that in those countries the people know at the time of the election who will head the government if the party they are voting for comes to power. Why is it that the people of Kerala are being denied the opportunity to make an informed choice in the same way?
The people of Kerala are being fooled because each of the principal political parties leading the fronts has more than one leader harbouring chief-ministerial ambitions and the central leaderships of these parties sitting in Delhi want to keep hopes alive in the cockles of all these ambitious but selfish leaders till the elections.
This is cheating. Achuthanandan and Sudheeran have been relentlessly trying for quite some time to demolish their own parties in the state and yet harbouring chief-ministerial ambitions. If either of them becomes the chief minister, governance will once again be given a holiday and Kerala will witness another no-holds barred battle between the chief minister and the rest of the cabinet as it happened during Achuthanandan’s previous stint in the Cliff House. These two leaders are bothered only about their personal images, however false, and do not give a damn to the developmental needs of the state. Kerala is now living in danger of one of these demolition men being named suicide bomber by some phantom sitting in Delhi.
(The author is a former civil aviation secretary and former member, Union Public Service Commission. The views expressed are personal.)