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Kerala: Victorious Left worries about the BJP's rise

By Shobha Warrier
May 19, 2016 17:20 IST
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Activists celebrate outside the CPI-M office in Thiruvanantapuram

IMAGE: Activists celebrate outside the CPI-M office in Thiruvananthapuram. All photographs: Shobha Warrier/

With Pinarayi Vijayan set to be the next chief minister, what will be party patriarch V S Achuthanandan's role?
And what are the key takeways from the election results in Kerala? Shobha Warrier/ explains from Thiruvanathapuram.

Now that the Left Democratic Front has recorded a massive victory, decimating the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front to just 22 seats, the next question on most Malayalee minds is: Who will be Kerala's next chief minister?

Will it be V S Achuthanandan, the 93-year-old Communist Party of India-Marxist patriarch, or the grim-faced Pinarayi Vijayan, who controls the CPI-M party machine?

In the last five years, VS has lived up to his image of a rebel by constantly battling the party leadership, and Pinarayi in particular. There was no way the CPI-M could ignore him at election time as he is the darling of the masses and can win elections for the party more than Pinarayi could.

Many credit CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury for giving VS a ticket and also deploying him in the election campaign after securing a promise that he would not antagonise the party during the campaign. VS did that diligently.

Now, will he ask for his pound of flesh? He has already said that if the party wants him to be chief minister, he will gladly accept.

In all probability, that won't happen. Though VS has the acceptance of CPI-M cadres, Pinarayi enjoys the support of the MLAs. It is expected that Pinarayi Vijayan, 72, will be chosen by the elected MLAs on Friday, May 20, as leader of the CPI-M legislature party and the state's next chief minister.

So if Pinarayi becomes chief minister, will VS stay quiet? The news is that VS will be given a position similar to what Sonia Gandhi enjoyed when the United Progressive Alliance ruled the country; that of LDF chairperson. In all likelihood, VS will be the patriarch supposed to guide the LDF government while Pinarayi will be chief minister.

Having seen the AIADMK and DMK party offices in Chennai on election results day, I expected fireworks and celebrations at the AKG Centre, the CPI-M headquarters in Thiruvanathapuram. To my surprise, I saw more media personnel with cameras than partymen.

A handful of party members sat with the media and watched the results on television. Outside the party office, on the road, three or four party activists draped in red, shouted 'Lal Salaam!' and danced, waving the CPI-M flag.

When I expressed my surprise about this to the editor of the party daily newspaper Desabhimani, he said, "Is that not news that you not witnessing loud celebrations at the party office? We do not believe in such celebrations."

I remembered that even at the weddings of Communist leaders, only tea and biscuits are served.

The Marxist editor then listed the reasons behind the United Democratic Front's humiliating defeat. "I will put corruption as the major reason for the UDF losing the elections so badly. Kerala has not seen such a corrupt government in its recent history."

"Then, the Oommen Chandy government quite discreetly supported the Bharatiya Janata Party which I am sure, people did not appreciate at all," he alleged. "Then, our candidate selection. We were very particular about choosing new and untested faces and it paid dividends."

The BJP office was packed with supporters, who cheered when the lone BJP candidate won

IMAGE: The BJP office was packed with supporters, who cheered when the lone BJP candidate, O Rajagopal, won.

There was a traffic jam on the road leading to Marar Bhavan, the BJP party office.

The office compound was overflowing with party activists and media men. When the television channel announced that O Rajagopal had won the Nemam constituency with a margin of more than 8,500 votes, there was an uproar and shouts of Vande Mataram.

The celebrations at Marar Bhavan gave you the impression that the BJP was going to rule the state!

"So what if we have won only one seat?" asked Ayyappan, a BJP worker. "Finally, the lotus is going to bloom in the Kerala assembly. This is our first step like the two seats we got in Parliament (in the 1984 general election)."

Suresh, O Rajagopal's driver who sat with a cut-out of his leader, said, "We have been waiting for this day. It doesn't matter that only Rajettan has won. This is only the beginning. We lost quite a few seats narrowly. That's a huge jump in our position."

The deserted Congress office

IMAGE: The deserted Congress office.

As expected, the Congress party headquarters, Indira Bhavan, was deserted. No media men with cameras and no party men were around except the ever-smiling Shashi Tharoor, the MP from Thiruvanthapuram.

A Congress supporter felt the first six months of the Oommen Chandy government were excellent with many good initiatives taking off. "Soon, almost all the ministers got themselves involved in some scandal or the other. It was like the second UPA. Look at what happened to all those ministers? Except K M Mani, all of them were thrown out by the people."

The most worrying factor for the LDF is the BJP's rise in southern and northern Kerala. In several constituencies, including VS' constituency, the BJP emerged second, pushing the Congress or UDF candidates to third place. Communist leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan admitted this as the most worrying aspect for the LDF at his press conference.

Another interesting factor that has emerged is the way the Muslims voted in the election.

With UDF candidates winning only seats in central Kerala, it is evident that Christian voters still back the UDF. In Muslim dominated areas the Muslim League was not the major party, it was the LDF that won.

Of course, the Muslim League won constituencies which its candidates were expected to win. Does that mean Muslim voters see the LDF as the best option to safeguard their interests with the rise of the BJP?

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Shobha Warrier / in Thiruvananthapuram