Offered a proper choice, the electorate shall punish the corrupt, the incompetent, and the arrogant -- but also reward true performers. You cannot ask more of a democracy, says TVR Shenoy.
The magic number that separates Comrade Achuthanandan from Oomen Chandy is 1,479. No, I have not skipped a zero or two, all it took to keep the Marxist veteran away from the chief minister's chair was one thousand, four hundred and seventy-nine votes.
The United Democratic Front won 72 seats in the newly-elected Kerala assembly to the Left Democratic Front's 68. But three constituencies voting the other way would have turned that verdict on its head.
Taking three seats away from the United Democratic Front and adding them to the Left Democratic Front would reduce the Congress-led alliance to 69 MLAs while raising the CPI-M's tally to 71 seats. It would be the barest of majorities but VS Achuthanandan would still be chief minister.
Now, consider the following facts from the Election Commission's site:
In Manalur PA Madhavan of the Congress beat Baby John of the CPI-M by 481 votes.
In Azhikode KM Shaji of the Muslim League beat M Prakashan Master of the CPI-M by 493 votes.
In Parassala AT George of the Congress beat Anavoor Nagappan of the CPI-M by 505 votes.
Add those numbers - 481, 493, 505 - and you get 1,479.
Some 17 million votes cast -- and the governance of Kerala was really decided by a mere 1,479 of those!
Those were not the sole constituencies won -- or lost -- by slim margins. In Kottayam, for instance, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan of the Congress beat the CPI-M's VN Vasavan by all of 711 votes.
Whatever you may think of the man and his record as chief minister, it is an undeniable fact that VS Achuthanandan put up a magnificent fight. The CPI-M won 45 seats on its own -- the Congress won only 38 -- and most agree the Marxist veteran was the 'Man of the Match'.
Kerala is soccer country, so it is a football metaphor that comes to mind: given that the Marxists were a house divided, how many UDF victories were actually CPI-M own-goals?
While Comrade Prakash Karat, Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan and their fellow travellers introspect over that, let us turn to the other states. I must say that these threw up stunningly clear results, even in the by-elections.
Taking nothing away from Mamata Banerjee's historic achievement in West Bengal the cold numbers reveal that J Jayalalithaa pulled off an even more amazing feat in Tamil Nadu. While the Left Front lies in tatters in the West Bengal assembly, the difference in actual votes polled is less striking -- about 42 per cent for the Left Front to roughly 48 per cent for Mamata Banerjee's grand alliance.
Jayalalithaa doubled that in Tamil Nadu, pulling 12 percentage points ahead of M Karunanidhi & Co.
Do not forget either that Mamata Banerjee's victory was foreshadowed in the 2009 general election, when the Trinamool Congress won 19 seats and her Congress ally won 6 more, a clear majority of the 42 constituencies in West Bengal. Jayalalithaa had by far the tougher task -- to reverse the 2009 results in her own state, when the DMK won 18 seats and its Congress ally got 8 more, an absolute majority of Tamil Nadu's 39 seats.
To understand the scale of the havoc caused by Hurricane Jayalalithaa consider this: the Congress won more seats in the Lok Sabha than it managed to win in the assembly polls two years later -- a mere five seats. As for the DMK, Jayalalithaa has reduced it to such straits that it cannot even lay claim to the post of Leader of the Opposition; the office goes to 'Captain' Vijayakanth, Jayalalithaa's ally, whose Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazha won 29 assembly seats to the DMK's 23.
The electorate delivered equally decisive mandates elsewhere, not just in the assembly elections for Assam and for Puducherry but in the by-elections in Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka. The full implications of the thrashing dealt out by Jagan Mohan Reddy to the Congress are yet to be felt but the (rather ignored) by-elections in Karnataka are also rather interesting.
By-polls were held in three seats, namely Jagalur, Bangarpet, and Chennapatna. The Congress got two in the last assembly elections, the Janata Dal-Secular taking the third. In 2011 the BJP won all three.
It is not easy to draw a lesson from this mix of elections and by-elections but there were a couple of common threads running through them. Whether in West Bengal or Tamil Nadu, the voter turned away from what might be termed 'mal-governance', a poisonous concoction of corruption and arrogance, while simultaneously rewarding 'good governance' in Assam.
In Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry the voter resented arrogant intervention by outsiders; both Jagan Mohan Reddy and Puducherry's N Rangaswamy felt themselves humiliated by the Congress 'High Command' -- and the electorate in turn humiliated the Congress.
That leaves my own home state. Was Kerala untouched by the wave of revulsion against abuse of power? In April I wrote in this column that the South -- meaning the principal states south of the Vindhyas and the Narmada -- failed the test in 1977. The political liberties we enjoy today are thanks to North India, which instinctively understood that democracy itself was at stake in 1977.
Did Kerala fail to understand the importance of good governance in 2011?
No, Kerala voted as it did because of lack of options. Whatever VS Achuthanandan's anti-corruption credentials, the fact is that he was at loggerheads with his own party. On the other side you saw Congress leaders rushing to embrace a Balakrishna Pillai who had been sentenced to jail by the Supreme Court itself. Where could Kerala voters go?
When given a clear choice, Kerala's voters were right up there with those of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Kottarakkara is the home seat of the aforementioned Balakrishna Pillai. His hand-picked nominee NN Murali was beaten by the CPI-M's P Aisha Potty by 20,592 votes. (No three digit, sub-thousand margins here!)
And, as in Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry, resentful Keralites returned arrogance in kind; Rahul Gandhi's jibe about old men was answered by rejecting over half of his 16 'young' candidates.
The clearest message from this slew of elections is probably 'Trust the voter!' Offered a proper choice, the electorate shall punish the corrupt, the incompetent, and the arrogant -- but also reward true performers. You cannot ask more of a democracy.