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Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Opinion: Down south, both Left and Right are at crossroads of political history

Right-wing forces have been trying to win in Kerala since the 1984 elections

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, in Kerala is facing the worst-ever crisis in the history of the communist movement in India. After its wipe-out in West Bengal at the hands of Mamata Banerjee in 2011 and in Tripura at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in last year’s assembly elections, it has lost its ground in Kerala to Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Out of the 20 seats in Kerala, the CPM has been able to get only one. At the national level, the CPM is becoming almost irrelevant politically as its tally in the new Lok Sabha is just about three.

The Left front at the national level has been a force to reckon with in the past few decades. It played an important role in carving out a political alliance, UPA I, under the Sonia Gandhi’s leadership in 2004. Harkishan Singh Surjeet, former general secretary of the party, brought together a set of regional parties that could effectively tide over the political crisis and complete its term under Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, which went on to continue for another term in 2009, of course without the CPM.

The UPA II ended with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) taking over after a massive victory in 2014. The CPM had managed to win nine seats across the country in 2014, a fall from the 16 seats the party won in 2009. Its vote share too declined from 5.33% in 2009 to just 3.2% in 2014. The Communist Party of India or CPI, the second largest party of the Left front, had one member in the previous Lok Sabha, that too from Kerala. The CPI has lost all the four seats it contested this time.

Kerala has given a jolt to the BJP as well. The party which has been trying to win three or four seats by cashing in on the Sabarimala controversy has drawn a blank. In Pathanamthitta, which it had marked as a sure seat as Sabarimala is located in the constituency, its candidate K. Surendran finished third. The only saving grace is that Kummanam Rajasekharan, who resigned as the governor of Mizoram to join the fray in Thiruvananthapuram, came second after Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, pushing the Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate to the third position.

Right-wing forces have been trying to win in Kerala since the 1984 Lok Sabha elections when Hindu Munnani made its mark. The brunt of that was shared by the LDF and Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

Hindu Munnani candidate Kerala Varma Raja, a member of the erstwhile Poonjar royal family in Idukki, came third with 19.8% of polled votes in Thiruvananthapuram, giving a big shock to both fronts. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the first Communist chief minister to come to power in India way back in 1957, could not digest this easily. Congress candidate A. Charles was elected from the seat, pushing down A Neelalohithadasan Nadar of the LDF. It was not the defeat of the left candidate that worried Namboodiripad but the impressive third place of the Hindu Munnani.

Thirty-five years later, the BJP has failed again to open an account in the Lok Sabha from Kerala. This is despite the golden opportunity it had in the Sabarimala issue which had whipped up emotions of upper caste Hindus, predominantly the Nair community. A large number of women had participated in the ‘nama japa processions’ (helmed by the BJP) in places like Pandalam, part of the Pathanamthitta constituency.

BJP state president Sreedharan Pillai had told party leaders at a meeting that the Sabarimala issue was a golden opportunity. They marked four of the total 20 constituencies as ‘A-plus’ seats, giving full attention to them. Apart from Rajasekharan in Thiruvananthapuram, a firebrand leader Surendran was fielded in Pathanamthitta, film actor and Rajya Sabha member K. Suresh Gopi in Thrissur and C. Krishnakumar in Palakkad. This setback will seriously affect BJP’s future in Kerala, after trying in vain to get a foothold in the state’s political domain.

For the Congress, the 19 seats its front won out of the total 20 seats is a remarkable achievement. And it has been able to send its leader Rahul Gandhi to the Lok Sabha from the Wayanad constituency. But the fact is that the massive victory of the Congress is at the expense of the BJP which had very effectively whipped up the Sabarimala sentiments. While the Congress has walked away with the trophies of the Sabarimala controversy, the BJP camp is silent despite its massive win in Delhi.

Jacob George is a veteran journalist and a Kerala-based political commentator.

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