Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan created history Sunday as the CPM-led Left Democratic Front pulverised the Congress-led United Democratic Front, winning 99 seats in the 140-member Kerala assembly. The LDF’s rank and file are undoubtedly jubilant over the victory, which is one of the biggest in terms of the number of seats won by any political alliance in an assembly election in Kerala.
Vijayan, popular among his fans as ‘Captain’, played a captain’s knock to guide the LDF into a consecutive election victory in a state known for rolling one alliance with another every five years. No other CPM leader had achieved such a distinction.
Even as Vijayan and other LDF leaders savour the moment of glory, there is scepticism galore over their commitment to charter a Leftist agenda for governance in the state. Even ardent CPM supporters may not harbour such illusions because Vijayan did not show any such inclination during the past five years. This goes well for his supporters, who are eager to project him as Deng Xiaoping of Kerala, championing the cause of private capital for rapid economic development of the state.
As chief minister, Vijayan repeatedly spoke of the need for private investment to build infrastructures. He even initiated several steps to improve Kerala’s score in the Ease of Doing Business rankings. The CPM leadership in Kerala is also expected to go along with the chief minister’s vision in the wake of the resounding success in the assembly election. The LDF’s poll manifesto had even promised to bring Rs 10,000 crore private investment to the state in the next five years. The semi high-speed rail project linking north and south Kerala, a slew of smaller airports in areas such as Idukki and Wayanad with tourism potential are some of the key projects likely to gain traction in Vijayan’s new tenure. A green development agenda for the state is likely to get further sidelined in the new administration because many of the mega ventures such as the semi-high speed rail project go against the idea of ecologically sustainable development.
Even before the election victory, Pinarayi Vijayan was wielding absolute control over the CPM state unit, with his loyalists placed at key positions in the party organisation. He took control of the party, and then the LDF, after sidelining his one-time mentor V.S. Achuthanandan in a bitterly fought inner-party squabble more than a decade ago. The massive victory in the 2021 election will only enhance his power and prestige as the undisputed leader of the CPM and the LDF in Kerala.
Although LDF supporters are jubilant at the electoral outcome, some members are worried that the victory would further diminish any remaining critical voices within the CPM and the LDF. The personality cult around Vijayan scaled new heights with the sobriquet ‘Captain’ becoming popular among supporters, causing more discomfort to party veterans. Even the central leadership of the CPM has no option now other than to keep Vijayan in good humour — Kerala remains the only state in India where the Left is in power with a meaningful political clout. The West Bengal and Tripura units are struggling for survival following their recent electoral debacle. The Bengal unit drew a blank in the 2021 election.
As such, Vijayan has managed to prevent a Bengal-like setback for the CPM in Kerala by consolidating the traditional support base of the Left while weaning away a section of Muslim and Christian minority voters. In a state with nearly 45 per cent minority votes, the electoral strategy of the CPM made sense against the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva agenda, which only served to create genuine apprehensions among Muslim and Christian voters. Focusing on an anti-BJP platform, the CPM breached the anti-Left coalition that the Congress had built in the state over the past five decades with Muslim and Christian communities being its major pillars.
The CPM’s organisational meetings scheduled later this year in the state will likely provide the direction the CPM and the LDF would be taking in the days ahead. The state leadership, meanwhile, is also required to keep its party cadres on a tight leash to prevent them from going berserk following the election victory. The party has to give special attention that its belligerent cadres are not involved in any political killings, especially in Kannur district, which is known for its internecine turf war between CPM and BJP supporters.
What’s in it for the opposition?
The magnitude of the defeat staring the Congress-led opposition raises a serious question mark over the future of India’s grand old party as well as the United Democratic Front (UDF) alliance led by it in the state. The defeat would be devastating for Rahul Gandhi, because the former Congress president held the maximum number of rallies in Kerala this election season.
Along with the UDF, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance also suffered a shattering blow, failing to retain its only seat, Nemom, it had won in 2016. The BJP leadership would be shell-shocked as ‘Metroman’ E. Sreedharan failed to engineer any electoral dividend for the NDA in the state. The party’s state unit president K. Surendran lost on both seats he contested.
Although the LDF also suffered losses in some constituencies it had high hopes of winning, such as Pala and Kalpetta, the camp for now is in a celebratory mood, having scripted a return to power by an incumbent for the first time in 44 years. And with ‘Captain’ Pinarayi in charge, the Left is enjoying every moment of it.
The author is a journalist and former senior editor at Deccan Chronicle. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)