Aggressive street protests, prolonged hunger strikes, keeping the government on tenterhooks in the legislative assembly, hogging undivided media attention— the Congress party is making itself seen as a decisive and aggressive attacking dog against the state’s ruling communist government in Kerala. Taking up a series of anti-government agitations recently, the party has received a boost in the public eye in Kerala, analysts say, in sharp contrast to the fortunes of its parent body, which is yet to decide its head after the resignation of Rahul Gandhi.
For sure, the synergy is in totem with what is at stake for Congress in the south— Kerala is the only southern state where the party won significantly in parliamentary polls, no less than 19 out of 20 seats, boosting its chances of forming a government in the state’s assembly elections two years down the line.
After Lok Sabha polls, Congress was at the forefront of agitations over the suicide death of an NRI businessman Sajan Parayil in Kerala, allegedly over the local communist politician’s refusal to sanction his business project. In the midst of media reports which loathed about the arrogance of communist leaders, Congress highlighted this incident as the alleged moral bankruptcy of the ruling Left. In turn, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) was forced to ask the resignation of the politician as a municipality chairperson.
Post-elections, the Congress has also been able to show some resilience in cornering the government over its alleged failure in rebuilding from last year’s major floods, and keeping the pressure up in nabbing the culprits in an alleged custodial death case. For the last one week, it has been conducting a series of student agitations to raise the law and order situation, after pro-Left Student Federation of India or SFI leaders stabbed a university student in broad daylight. On Thursday, the party is flexing its muscles to hold a mass blockade of the secretariat to call for a central investigation into an alleged university examination and Public Service Commission recruitment scam by the SFI leaders accused in the stabbing incident.
“We are taking up every single issue where we can corner the government, damage the image of its leaders of the Left and the chief minister (Pinarayi Vijayan). I think a couple of things are working in favour for us: One, the organisation under our new president Mullappally Ramachandran is a lot stronger than it was before. Whatever be the infighting within the party, both the president and the opposition leader has been able to work as a single team, coordinating public responses in a smooth manner and keeping a good rappo with the media," said Joseph Vazhakkan, Congress spokesperson in Kerala.
The infighting he referred to is about the internal split of Congress in Kerala as two factions, one led by former chief minister Oommen Chandy and the other by current opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.
Political analyst Jacob George also credited much of the new-found energy to the emergence of Ramachandran as a leader appreciated by across groups and factions in Congress. “When a controversy emerged this week about the party workers raising money to offer a car to Congress’ only Dalit MP in Kerala, Ramya Haridas, Ramachandran had asked to drop the plan. The move had caused a backlash in social media as the MP would get loans for buying vehicles. Right after Ramachandran spoke out, Ramya Haridas put a Facebook post and said she would listen to her party chief's opinion. He is sealing his name and position both among the leaders and the caders"
According to Vazhackan, the party is also helped by an infusion of a new class of voters, especially youngsters, to fight its battles. Its week-long hunger fast against SFI in capital city until Monday, was under the aegis of its student body’s president Abhijit. Another one of its student leaders, C Shilpa, also made news during the week for a fierce show of resistance against the police when they tried to stop her entering inside the chief minister's office.
“The new kids, whether it is inside the assembly or on the street, are our real strength. Everybody realises that Congress is going through an alarming situation nationally and that Kerala is the only ray of hope for the party in the south. I think it has made everyone to set aside their differences and work as a single team to capture power in Kerala," said Vazhackan.