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Don't be surprised if Oommen Chandy is back!

Last updated on: May 09, 2016 12:28 IST

'Oommen Chandy may well prove to be the Teflon chief minister whose reputation cannot be tarnished,' predicts Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.

Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, second from left, with Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Sachin Tendulkar light the lamp to inaugurate the National Games. Photograph: PTI

IMAGE: Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, third from right, Union Sports Minister and the BJP's chief ministerial candidate in Assam Sarbananda Sonowal, second from left, and Sachin Tendulkar, left, light the lamp to inaugurate the National Games, January 31, 2015. Photograph: PTI

 

One week before the voting, the only thing certain in Kerala is that the politics in the state has changed beyond recognition.

The cozy comfort enjoyed by the United Democratic Front and the Left Democratic Front of coming to power every five years has been disturbed.

Though the third coalition of motley parties in the name of the National Democratic Alliance has no hope of sharing power except in the case of a hung assembly, the advent of the alliance as a serious competitor is a phenomenon no one can ignore.

If nothing else, the NDA has caused a re-examination of the options before them.

National issues have come to the fore and the attention given by national leaders has brought New Delhi closer to the scene.

The presumptive successor to the UDF, the LDF seems to have suddenly lost its confidence as the focus has shifted away from it. Its agenda is not different from that of the UDF and the promise to do the same things better and without corruption is not good enough in the new context

It cannot even offer to reverse policies because the development models held up by the UDF have captured the imagination of the people.

The LDF cannot offer a convincing alternative to even the liquor policy of the UDF as it can neither encourage nor discourage consumption of liquor. Abstinence rather than prohibition is a lame alternative.

The other handicap is the impression that the LDF is not averse to violence to achieve its objectives, even in education.

Since its leaders are also facing corruption charges, the clean image they try to project is not convincing. Reports that it is receding to the third position in certain constituencies must be a shock to the LDF.

The alliance with the Congress in West Bengal is an embarrassment to the Left parties, even though it is recognized that politics create strange bedfellows.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi dwelt at length on the anomalous situation in his campaign speeches in Kerala, speaking of it as a 'politics of adjustment.'

The UDF platform is rooted in the mega projects that they have initiated or advanced during the last five years.

As against its spectacular achievements, the cloud of corruption charges hangs over the UDF, though nothing has been proved.

During the campaign, the corruption charges have not gained traction, essentially because many accusers have lost credibility and the mega projects seem to outshine mega scandals.

Oommen Chandy may well prove to be the Teflon chief minister, whose reputation cannot be tarnished.

Recent history has instances of a sense of destiny having been instrumental in retaining leaders in place even in the face of serious allegations.

In the case of former United States President Bill Clinton, the charges led to his impeachment, but the US Senate decided that his services were needed for the country.

And history proved that had he been removed, the country would have been deprived of an inspiring leader. His transgressions, though proved, did not stand in the way of his continuing as President. The scandal was, at worst, a distraction, which did not affect his performance in any way.

He kept saying that he wanted to be left alone to do the work he was elected to perform and it sounded logical. Those of us, who lived through the trauma in Washington, expected him to resign each morning, but lived through his whole term and saw him remaining relevant even after he finished his term.

The joke at that time was that if Clinton was the Titanic, the iceberg would have been shattered.

Another case was that of the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who was indicted in the 'Oil for Food' scam in Iraq. Many of his associates were removed and punished and his own son was accused of benefitting from the programme.

K Natwar Singh, the then Indian foreign minister, had to resign because his name was mentioned in one of the annexes, though there was no indictment against him.

But Kofi Annan was not allowed to resign because it was felt that his services were needed by the world body. He finished his two terms and he remains a respected figure in world politics today.

The details of the charges against him have been forgotten, but his contribution to the world body is remembered with gratitude.

Unlike Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan, Oommen Chandy has not been indicted in any of the cases and many of the charges are, prima facie, concocted. Moreover, his services are required to take the development process forward.

No other leader has shown the kind of commitment to hard work for development as he has done. He stretches himself to the maximum to ensure that the state benefits from his services.

In the circumstances, he may prove to be the person to rely on. If this realisation sets in at the time of voting, the UDF and Oommen Chandy may well have a chance of success.

The Bharatiya Janata Party blitzkrieg is reaching unprecedented proportions in Kerala, but most names of BJP leaders are of no consequence to Kerala voters.

They are not even household names and their Hindi speeches are alien to them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi draws crowds, but they will not turn into votes as most candidates are already committed.

Research shows that only 17 per cent of the electorate is susceptible to publicity stunts.

The prime minister's visit at the time of a pyrotechnics accident and his criticism of the state government about a murder case only raise eyebrows as he was silent about serious crisis situations in the rest of the country.

For the BJP, the best hope is that a few seats they may win will be decisive in making the government. Finding a coalition for the BJP to support will be a problem even in that eventuality.

The churning of the oceans taking place in Kerala today may bring forward many apparitions, which will alter the calculations of the past. But where the poison will settle and where the nectar will emerge remains unclear.

The final result may well be a reliance on continuity rather than change, but with a vastly changed scenario for the future.

Ambassador T P Sreenivasan (Indian Foreign Service, 1967) is former ambassador of India and governor for India of the IAEA; executive vice-chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council; director general, Kerala International Centre.
His earlier columns can be read here
.

T P Sreenivasan