A group of elderly women at the Sabarimala (PTI file)
A group of elderly women at the Sabarimala (PTI file)

Opinion | Down south, both Left and Right at the crossroads of history

The CPM in Kerala is facing the worst ever crisis in the history of communist movement in India. Also, the BJP, which has been trying to win at least three or four seats in the state by cashing in on the Sabarimala controversy, hasn’t been able to win even a single seat

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPM, in Kerala is facing the worst ever crisis in the history of 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 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in last year’s assembly elections, it has lost its ground in Kerala in to Congress in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. 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. (It won two from Tamil Nadu)

The Left front at the national level has been a force to reckon with over the last few decades. It played an important role in carving out a political alliance UPA 1 under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi in 2004. Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the former General Secretary of the party brought together a set regional parties of different hues which could effectively tide over the political crisis and complete its term under Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh which went on to continue for a second term in 2009, of course without the CPM attached to it.

And the UPA 2 had its inevitable end 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. Their 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.

The people of Kerala has given a shocking jolt to the BJP as well. The party which has been trying to win at least three or four seats in the state by cashing in on the Sabarimala controversy hasn’t been able to win even a single seat. In Pathanamthitta, which the party had marked as a sure seat because of the presence of Sabarimala within the constituency, its candidate K Surendran has suffered a major setback finishing 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 CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate to the third position.

Right wing forces have been trying to succeed in Kerala since 1984 Lok Sabha elections when Hindu Munnani, a political entity of the Hindutva forces, made a mark in the electoral domain of Kerala. The brunt of that was shared more or less equally by the LDF and Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

The Hindu Munnani candidate Kerala Varma Raja, a member of the erstwhile Poonjar royal family in Idukki district, came third with 19.80% of polled votes in Thiruvananthapuram constituency, giving a big shock to the political leaders of both the fronts. EMS Namboodiripad, the first ever 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 EMS but the impressive third place the Hindu Munnani. He had apprehensions about the new Hindu avatar emerging as a new political force.

35 years later, the BJP has miserably 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 in favour of the BJP. 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.

The BJP Kerala president Sreedharan Pillai himself had told a group of party leaders in an in-camera meeting that the Sabarimala issue was a golden opportunity for the party. They marked four of the total 20 constituencies as ‘A-plus’ seats giving full attention to them. Apart from Kummanam in Thiruvananthapuram, a firebrand leader K 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 the future of the party in Kerala which has been trying in vain to get a foothold in the political domain shared by the two fronts, UDF and LDF.

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 has 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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