Kozhikode: The total years of political experience that several new candidates have in the upcoming Kerala assembly election is easy to calculate: it is zero.
As three major fronts declared their official list of candidates in the last couple of days, the 2016 assembly election in Kerala is turning out to be unusually good for novices hailing from outside the political establishment in Kerala.
There are at least five film stars, two popular television anchors, a sportsman and others in the race, most of whom, strictly speaking, come from a non-political background and will contest elections for the first time on 16 May.
Kerala’s voters, however, are known for preferring full-time politicians over activists or businessmen or even writers and film stars. They have preferred active politicians even when state award winning film director Lenin Rajendran or actor Murali or literary critics such as Sukumar Azhikode contested polls in the past.
Even the late Prem Nazeer, known as an evergreen actor in the state, who hit the road for election campaigning for the Congress party five decades ago, could not save the party’s fortunes. But this time, the parties seem least bothered about past examples.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—which has never won a single seat in the state assembly and has struck an alliance with an Ezhava caste organisation and is posed to win between three to five seats as per an Asianet News-C4 forecast this time—has fielded former Indian team cricketer Sreesanth, tribal activist C.K. Janu, film director Rajasenan and actors Kollam Thulasi and Bheeman Raghu.
The two other major fronts—Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF)—have also rolled out a red carpet welcome for those with a starry past.
While well-known actor Jagadeesh will contest as a Congress candidate, popular actor Mukesh will contest on a CPM ticket. CPM is also fielding two popular prime time news anchors, M.V. Nikesh Kumar and Veena George, as party-backed Independent candidates. Nikesh Kumar is also son of M.V. Raghavan, one of CPM’s strongest leaders until he was expelled and formed his own party.
A handful of mid-sized businessmen with no prior active political background have also gained tickets across parties, prominent among them is All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) candidate Biju Ramesh, a bar owner who exposed the ruling front over an alleged bribe scam that led to the resignation of Kerala’s finance minister K.M. Mani.
The growing list of outsiders has not been welcomed by everyone, especially those in the party ranks. An actor whose name was proposed by the CPM backed out of the race, apparently citing “health reasons", after party workers protested. The Congress is also facing agitation for leaning towards outsiders and also due to the fights within the party. Its trade union arm, Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), has said it will field rebel candidates in 18 constituencies.
Changing nature of political representation
There is a significant difference in the nature of non-political MLA aspirants spread across all parties this time, point out experts. “Earlier such outsiders used to have an ideological link or a political background to claim the ticket. This time, however, they are solely backed because of their stardom," said B.R.P. Bhaskar, veteran journalist and political analyst.
“The political system has become highly fragmented... a person attaches himself with a political party not necessarily because of any political ideology but because it will protect him from any trouble," said Bhaskar.
It is also unusual that all of the mainstream political parties are treading the same path. “There is nothing to differentiate one (party) from the other now. You are supposed to talk politics and convince people that you have a political ability different from other parties, that is not happening," he said.
“It happens when everyone is in a desperate gamble to somehow come back into parliamentary politics, when winnability as the ultimate criteria also becomes the only criteria," said Bhaskar.