On a recent visit to Kerala after some years, one was baffled to see the change in the political zeitgeist. The once politically-vibrant Keralite has not only become unrepentantly indifferent, but no longer shares any excitement about the chameleon-type political parties—across the spectrum. The reason: the political parties’ sheer lack of ideology.
Even before the final formation of the state, political parties, whether the Indian National Congress or the undivided Communist Party, had individual identities, nationalism or class struggle—reasons that ensured them a loyal mass support.
People’s commitment to an ideological polity was one of the reasons why Keralites preferred to elect communists through the ballot box, a maiden event in world history. Also, some sort of commitment from the opposite camp led to Vimochana Samaram, or liberation struggle, which led to the ouster of the first communist government.
Coupled with commitment, general awareness and high literacy levels made Kerala an example of how a polity can influence and affect common life; for a Keralite, ideological politics was something more important than basic amenities. The result, though of no consequence in the long run, was revolutionary: the Land Reforms Act, high education and literacy, low death rates and, above all, public awareness.
Now, decreasing value politics, dirty alliances and the redundancy of political parties have led to a situation where the educated Kerala electorate, which has spare time on its hands thanks to chronic unemployment and reluctance to do manual labour, is left ideologically abandoned.
Kerala does have a history of not successively voting a party to power—whether it is the United Democratic Front (UDF) or the Left Democratic Front (LDF). But that’s not the reason why the electorate would prefer the UDF over the LDF, or vice versa. The reason is that more Keralites do not find any reason why a party with a philosophy such as communism should be trusted. The mass realization is that “communism” may have been of some contribution to the Kerala psyche and identity, but it did more harm than good: destroyed the economy, reduced employment opportunities,?shut?industries?and, moreover, left a huge void of individual idleness. After the death of A.K. Gopalan, Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad, there was hardly any communist leader the janata could look up to.
That doesn’t mean the UDF is above suspicion. If the Congress-led front came to power, it was either due to the disenchantment towards the communists, or, mainly, because the ideology —lacking UDF meant business, whichever way one takes it. People, of course, realize that the Congress in Kerala, to live up to the name it has carved elsewhere, has institutionalized corruption, and if elected they’d repeat what they were always good at: enjoying the fruits of power.
And that leaves the BJP. Though L.K. Advani was optimistic of opening an account in every assembly and the Lok Sabha polls, it’s easier said than done. Here, too, ideology rules: for an ordinary Keralite, Lord Ram is an alien, and Ayodhya is as alien as a place as Antarctica. Fanaticism can never run in this land and obsessed nationalism, which the BJP is trying to inculcate among the masses, is not something Keralites followed even during the independence movement.
Sunil K. Poolani is the publisher and managing editor of Frog Books, Mumbai. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org