Historians say about the Bourbon kings of France that they never learnt anything and never forgot anything. When I read about KPCC’s reluctance to have an open discussion on the factors that contributed to the dismal performance of Congress Party in the recently concluded state assembly elections, I was reminded of this saying. According to news reports, the KPCC meeting convened to discuss the poll defeat ended with the conclusion that communal polarization was the singular reason for the phenomenal performance of LDF at the hustings. One would imagine that such a meeting would be more appropriate for 1st April!
The biggest factor contributing to the UDF defeat was just one man: KPCC president VM Sudheeran. From day one as the KPCC chief, Sudheeran never spared any effort to paint his own party’s government as corrupt and malevolent. People would consider criticism of the government by opposition leaders as normal. Where the opposition’s criticism failed, however, Sudheeran’s admonitions did the trick. Why should people disbelieve it when the ruling party’s own organizational chief keeps saying day in and day out that his party’s government is corrupt?
In politically conscious Kerala everyone knew that the unsavory bar controversy was triggered by Sudheeran’s effort to push his own government into a corner with the demand that the pending applications for bar license be rejected even if they met all the requirements of the then existing laws. This and the clandestine efforts of Mani to put himself in the chief ministerial chair through an understanding with the opposition forced Oommen Chandy to take the posture of being saintlier than St. Antony and St. Sudheeran. The people of Kerala could see the seamy side of Kerala politics when the haloes of all these saints brought their combined light to focus on it. What they saw was not a pretty picture. Unfortunately there is no dearth of power hungry saints in the Congress who work overtime to pull down their friends and colleagues. These people think that they are recreating a Rembrandt painting of Congress politics.
It was as well that KPCC chose to avoid wasting people’s time and media space by refusing to have an honest introspection. Nothing can anyway save the Congress in Kerala so long as Sudheeran continues as the KPCC president. In another 2-3 years he would have succeeded in enfeebling the Congress beyond the possibility of recovery. In the next five years NDA would have gained enough strength to ensure that the anti-Left votes get vertically split in the middle ensuring a smoother victory for LDF in the next state assembly elections.
No political party that is able to demonstrate a realistic possibility of coming to power will ever remain untouchable. Many of those who show great distaste for BJP politics now will invent new excuses to join NDA when they see that it has gained strength and Congress has joined the list of endangered species. Remember Rambilas Paswan who resigned from NDA Government to join hands with Congress and Lalu to fight communal forces in the country? There will be many Paswans in Kerala too.
Was there a communal polarization in Kerala during the recent election? I do not think so. It is a fact that the popularity of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has been declining over the years as ordinary Muslims realized that the League was mainly interested in protecting the vested interests of a few rich people who were its leaders and had amassed wealth misusing power. On the other hand, RSS cadres had become more aggressive in the Malabar region in the wake of BJP coming to power in Delhi. CPM was the only party that provided protection to the anti-IUML Muslims of Malabar from RSS aggression and they switched their loyalty to CPM in droves. Even those who had been supporters of the splinter Muslim parties voted for LDF candidates this time. In this sense there was Muslim consolidation in favor of LDF to some extent in Malabar.
The surge in support to BJP cannot be seen as Hindu consolidation. BJP has been essentially a Nair party in Kerala from the very beginning but mostly of the more communally sensitive Nairs. Disenchantment with the Congress, however, has been growing even among the more broadminded and affluent Nairs who used to support the Congress. With the BJP coming to power in the Centre and taking some decisive actions to restore the lost dynamism to India’s national economy many other communities including sections of Syrian Christians have begun to take a fresh look at BJP. They are beginning to see BJP as an alternative to Congress. The emphasis on development in BJP’s campaigns has considerably neutralized their aversion to RSS. This and the support of the affluent section of the Ezhava community represented by Vellappally Natesan have resulted in the BJP surge. This trend is likely to be accentuated as the Congress with its dynastic obsession continues on a delusional and self-destructive path at the national level. As one wag put it, ‘Congress Party is busy with its own project for creating a Congress-mukth Bharat’! Appointment of Sudheeran as KPCC president was the best example of this self-destruction project.
The discussions on the macro factors, however, should not make us oblivious of the most important factor that decided the fate of most of the legislators: their rapport with the electorate or the lack of it. Big projects like Metro rail and Vizhinjam port are fine but the man on the street is even more interested in finding solutions to his day-to-day problems. Those who spoke engagingly about political violence or communalism or such other macro issues but had no time to be accessible to the common man were thrown out and those who always found time to lend a helping hand to anyone in need were elected irrespective of the party they represented. This is the most important lesson for all political parties to learn. The newly elected legislators would do well to remember this vital lesson.
(The author is a former civil aviation secretary and former member, Union Public Service Commission. The views expressed are personal.)