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The Jurassic Park of Indian politics

By T V R Shenoy
Last updated on: December 23, 2014 21:04 IST
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CPI-M office in KeralaThe last place where the dinosaurs who once dreamt of ruling the Earth can still be seen in their natural habitat, says T V R Shenoy.

Which is the only major state -- one that elects 20 or more Lok Sabha MPs -- where the Congress emerged as the single largest party, where a Congress-led coalition won the majority of the seats, and where the BJP could not get a single candidate voted in?

Which is the state that sent the largest number of CPI-M nominees to the Lok Sabha, and that enabled the CPI-M-led Left Front to reach double figures?

Which is the only state where a candidate from the CPI and the RSP might expect to win a seat?

The correct answers are 'Kerala', 'Kerala', and 'Kerala'.

The Congress has eight Lok Sabha MPs from Kerala, just one fewer than the nine elected from Karnataka, which has 28 Lok Sabha constituencies to Kerala's 20.

Of the nine that it won in the larger state, the Congress squeaked past the BJP by a miserable 1,499 votes in Raichur, and by just 3,003 votes in Chikkodi. A few thousand votes here and there, and Kerala would have elected more Congress MPs than did Karnataka.

Kerala is now the only state in India where parties like the RSP might reasonably hope to win seats. But N K Premachandran's victory in Kollam -- making him the RSP's sole representative in the 16th Lok Sabha -- did not come at the expense of the Congress. The man he beat to second place, by 37,649 votes, was the CPI-M's M A Baby.

Kollam has been a stronghold of the Revolutionary Socialist Party since the first general election, when -- then called Quilon-and-Mavelikara in the erstwhile state of Travancore-Cochin -- it was won by the RSP's N Sreekantan Nair.

In 1999 the CPI-M, the Tyrannosaurus Rex of this Jurassic Park, bullied the RSP into surrendering the seat. By 2014 the smaller party decided that enough was enough, and insisted on putting up its own candidate in Kollam.

When the CPI-M refused, the RSP walked out of the Left Democratic Front, joining the United Democratic Front, which is led by the Congress.

N K Premachandran, who had won the seat in the Lok Sabha polls of 1996 and 1998, is now back in Parliament. But where does that leave the defeated CPI-M candidate, M A Baby?

Kundara is one of the seven assembly segments that make up the Lok Sabha constituency of Kollam. The sitting MLA is the same M A Baby who was humbled in the parliamentary contest; what is worse is that he polled fewer votes than his rival even in the Kundara segment.

M A Baby, taking this last fact into consideration, offered to resign from the assembly.

I consider M A Baby a friend of mine. I have always found him intelligent, honest, and courteous. But I am struggling to understand the rationale behind this offer.

First, India's voters have repeatedly demonstrated that they draw distinctions between state and national elections.

In 1999 the Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha polls were held simultaneously in Maharashtra. The BJP won 56 seats and the Shiv Sena won 69 in the assembly; the allies were clearly in a minority in the 248-strong Vidhan Sabha. The same electorate, voting on the same day, gave 24 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats to the same coalition between the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

Assuming that Kerala's voters are as politically literate as those of Maharashtra, the voters of Kundara might well opt for a CPI-M candidate in the state polls even after choosing a national alliance in the parliamentary election.

Second, it is open to question whether the voters of Kundara were questioning M A Baby's credentials or those of the CPI-M, which sponsored him.

The Left Front in general -- particularly the CPI-M -- has fallen apart over the past decade. When Prakash Karat became the CPI-M general secretary the Left Front had 60 seats in the Lok Sabha, with the CPI-M having 43 on its own. Today, the CPI-M has nine MPs, and the Left Front as a whole has twelve.

Kollam's voters would have seen how Mamata Banerjee had destroyed the Red Fortress in West Bengal in 2011. They would have seen the RSP was emboldened enough to challenge the 'Big Brother' of the Left in Kerala. And they might, very sensibly, have decided that it made better sense to vote for a candidate backed by the Congress.

M A Baby might want to accept responsibility for the defeat in the Kundara assembly segment, and for Kollam in general. Who is responsible for the general debacle that is the fate of the Left across all its old strongholds?

Did the CPI-M lose the contest in Kollam because of M A Baby's individual failing, or was it just symptomatic of the decline of the Left?

Third, some Marxist supporters might claim that there is an element of political ethics in M A Baby's offer of resignation.

Morality cannot be decided through a majority vote. Did M A Baby protest, for instance, against the unprintable words used by Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI-M boss in Kerala? Was such foul language ethical?

The upshot is that M A Baby's offer to resign simply comes across as an empty gesture, one grown stale because we have all seen it so often.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi offered their resignations to the Congress Working Committee; it was refused. Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of Assam, offered his resignation to the Congress president; she turned it down. Nitish Kumar offered his resignation to his party; it was accepted, but the outgoing chief minister of Bihar was empowered to pick a loyalist as his successor.

If M A Baby wanted to resign from the legislature he would have sent his resignation letter to the Speaker. If he wanted to resign from the CPI-M Politburo he would have informed the party's general secretary. Sending the offer to resign from the assembly to the party reveals a confusion of thought.

Caught between his conscience and his loyalty to the party -- the same dilemma that bedevils A K Antony -- he chose his party.

The CPI-M refused his offer. How could it do otherwise? Acceptance would have raised uncomfortable questions about the parts played by Prakash Karat and Pinarayi Vijayan.

M A Baby is an honourable man, and he probably does not want to be accused of indulging in ritual stripped of significance. So here is some unsolicited advice: Resign. Or do not resign. But do not test the public's patience by offering to resign.

For more columns by Mr T V R Shenoy on, please click here.

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