Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kerala Votes - 2011

May 13 is a normal dull day in Minimum City but I am tuned to the TV right from 7.30 in the morning to get into the mood of the results of the State election results. Most pollsters have predicted decisively in all states except Kerala where the VS factor was looming large. But the Bengalis were keenly waiting for history to be created and a few hours later, it finally happened – The one traffic light in the world that was red for 34 years, just turned green (Derek O' Brien's tweet). Tamil Nadu threw out the DMK family and voted back JJ Amma in a landslide victory while Kerala saw the UDF score a technical victory in points over the divided house of LDF.

Let me stick to a perspective on Kerala. Psephologists were scared to predict the results of the elections but were hiding behind the safety of the state’s anti-incumbency voting record. After many ups and downs, the UDF finally pipped the LDF to the post (in an almost 1984 PT Usha moment) but as Shashi Kumar very aptly said – The winner is left with a crown of thorns while the loser has emerged as the hero.

The LDF won a clear majority of the districts while the Congress just about won the state in a below par performance compared to the Parliamentary elections and survived due to the performance of its ally, IUML (primarily in Malappuram). The CPI (M) emerged as the single largest party while the vote difference between the fronts was a paltry 0.58%. With a mere 38 seats in the House, Congress will have a tough time running the state (expected future CM Oomen Chandy had been quoted earlier as saying that he was no interested in becoming CM if the UDF had less than 85-90 seats).

As a cadre based polity, the CPI (M) will of course refuse to admit that Individuals can matter. Most people had written of the Leftists due to the massive infighting in the party and despite last minute dithering on who will lead the party, the CM was able to project himself as an honest street fighter willing to tack on the various mafia groups in the State. Pinarayi controls the party organization but cannot garner votes for the party and still needs VSs skills to get popular support. If the Reds had stood strongly behind him, we would have seen another slice with history with the LDF beating the traditional anti-incumbency wave but that was not to be.

For a party with a strong grassroots base, it is surprising that it failed to gauge VS popularity and tried to block his campaign; the worst enemy of the Left is itself and this cost it dearly in the election (the losses in Kannur for example). I am no Left sympathizer but in the last few years, I have supported VS initiatives against the real estate and sand mafia and his pro-environmental stance; I hoped that the LDF would pull off a last ball six for his sake but it did not happen. (Cynics have also pointed out that VS had tremendous sympathy of the masses because of his clean image and the obvious negative tactics of the Pinarayi faction).

The UDF seemed to have put their faith in statisticians rather than party workers; the only idea was that the people of Kerala would anyway throw out the incumbent party and so there was nothing much to do – just wait and watch for the results. There is hardly a leader in UDF who can stand tall and fight VS in a man-to-man contest and while the party led initially, as time progressed, it suddenly trembled at the prospect of taking on the CM. To the extent that Leader is no  longer in our midst, maybe the infighting within UDF may be minimized but only a fool would think that the UDF CM will be able to govern peacefully without Ramesh Chennithala, K M Mani and Kunhalikutty breathing down his throat.

The highly exaggerated Rahul Factor was expectantly absent in the state. His only contribution in the election was taunting VSs age and getting rebuked for being an Amul Baby (In a state with a huge graying population and a fairly traditional society, was that a smart remark to make?) Nevertheless, Rahul’s Amul Babies did not create any impact and almost none of the candidates hand-picked by him won. It’s time Rahul realizes that you cannot just crash land into a state a few days before elections and then hope to make a difference. Rahul’s ambitious youth membership drive has been zealously implemented in Kerala, compared to most states, but the results at the ground level are not too inspiring. The Rahul factor remains a topic for discussion in media circles in Delhi and outside it; it has now become a butt of jokes.

The BJP continued to be consistent with its strong showing of zero seats. Kerala’s strong bipolar political setup has severely hampered its growth and it continues to languish as a party which garners a few votes in Kasargod and Thiruvananthapuram. While the RSS is a strong grassroots force in Kerala, it has not been able to translate this into any form of electoral gains for the BJP. The fact that it has not been able to open its account in the state even after so many years is discouraging and there seems to be little chance of any changes in their fortune in the future, even though they managed to emerge triumphant in a few areas during the last Panchayat polls.

Analysts say that the voting was split vertically along religious lines with Hindus voting for the Left and the Muslims and Christians voting for UDF. IUML winning in Malappuram is evident (often wondered how an outsider like Banatwala won a record number of times from Ponnani) but how does that explain the LDF dominating most other districts. Pollsters mentioned that UDF hobnobbing with minority groups and VS severely reprimanding communal fringe leaders may have attracted Hindus to the Left (otherwise, when did Nairs and Brahmins grow Left-friendly?). 

I am also a little puzzled by this thought; I vote as an individual and not a representative of my religion. How do Hindus en-masse suddenly decide to vote for the Left one fine day? The Church did not issue any edict or letter asking people from voting against the Left, so why would they have voted for the UDF? This is all under the assumption that people vote strictly on religious terms but I find it hard to believe this.

It must be said that while the VS charisma made a difference, we at Kerala only have him to look up to but VS in no Modi (despite my misgivings against him) or Nitish Kumar; he is a crusader but no great administrator (something that Mamata Banerjee will have to bear in mind). People vouch for his honesty and frankness but he’s not scored top marks for administration acumen any time and at this age, no one expects him to have a change of heart anyway. We don’t dream of any Poribartan here; both the options have been tested and no one thinks that there is anything to choose between the two fronts.

We have won enough laurels for our social and health indices but it is time to go beyond this. Gulf Remittances in the form of cash transfers are the only forms of investment and it is this mass migration that has kept the state's economics afloat for such a long time. The challenges of poor industrialization, record levels of unemployment, empty treasuries and worrying signs of religious extremism will not evaporate one fine day unless something concrete is done about it...

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