Kerala’s voters, generally impatient with incumbents seeking a renewed mandate, have comprehensively rejected the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
The UDF had won a narrow majority in 2011. To the chaos of Kochi, it brought the long-awaited metro rail. The dream of an aerodrome in communist Kannur took shape. A big south Indian port project at Vizhinjam, harking back to Kerala’s maritime glory, was taken up. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was accessible.
But citizens were suspicious of the regime. Every scam, suffused with sex and graft and liquor, eroded the government’s credibility. A businesswoman’s antics, and allegations of harassment by men in power, became staple diet for the wholly literate state for months. A liquor dealer’s regurgitated tales of corruption hung in the political air as an obnoxious presence.
The Congress could have played on how the CPI (M) was an ally in West Bengal to blunt the edge of the Marxist campaign in Kerala. But both sides were perhaps inordinately embarrassed to highlight such stark contradictions of public life. The trail of violence unruly Marxist bands have left around in an organised show of prowess has done grave damage to the Left Democratic Front. Its legislative performance was often cavalier but the Congress did not have the grit or sense to expose it.
Two contrary things done by the contending combinations are remarkable.
First, Oommen Chandy took on the Congress high command during the run up to the election. But the party remained a divided house at the state level.
Two, the Marxist leadership managed to make the two warring generals of the party in Kerala bury the hatchet. The nonagenarian comrade, V S Achuthanandan, who knows how best to hurt the party with his remarks, has decided to behave like a good boy. Even after the election, he left the decision on chief-ministership to the party.
Both rival combinations made one massive miscalculation. Both predicted that the BJP would not “open account” in Kerala. In the event, one person, O Rajagopal, who has behind him a breath-taking series of electoral defeats, has won. It is the culmination of an unprecedented high-voltage campaign. From there to a place in the sun in terms of power politics, it is a far cry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who made it a point to make three campaign rounds in this tiny state should know that Kerala bestows power on viable coalitions. The state’s majority-minority ratio is 54:45. Harp on an exclusive Hindu theme, ever and everywhere, and it does not make it to power. It may, at best, be content with a paltry savings account.
(K Govindan Kutty is senior journalist and author.)