The old fight between the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has become the fight between the old. Today, there is far more interest in Kerala about two candidates who belong to the pages of the state’s history, the 92-year-old legendary communist firebrand KR Gowri amma who is contesting from the UDF and the rough and ready communist chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who at 87 is not ready to throw in the towel, than there is about the Rahul brigade.
In a tumble-down cottage in Malampuzha, a handful of policemen and party workers have been waiting patiently since early in the morning to see VS as he is popularly known to take him campaigning. Tattered pictures of Hindu gods adorn the cottage which has been hired for the strident atheist. A Daliesque cuckoo clock on the wall is surrounded by Kathakali masks still in their covering. Eventually well past 10 am, the chief minister ambles down the stairs, looking puzzled at the motley crew gathered in the flyblown living room.
Speaking exclusively to HT, he says he is bound to bounce back to power. There is no problem, he says unconvincingly, with the saturnine state party chief Pinarayi Vijayan though their battles have spilt into the open on more than one occasion with negative consequences for VS. “These stories are cooked up by people like Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League leaders to cover up for the fact that they can’t bear each other.” He reserves his vitriol for the Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Bannerjee whom he describes as “anti-worker, retrogressive, backward and a Maoist sympathizer.”
The doctor holding a blood pressure machine aloft accompanies him as he reluctantly begins his campaign of the day in a seeming daze. Age has certainly caught up with the man born into utter poverty who eked out a living stitching sacks. He is the last living founder member of the CPM. The homespun wit is in short supply on this occasion though the workers gathered say that he will come into his own later. As he shuffles up to the waiting Innova, you cannot help but get the feeling the once great leader is walking his final but not glorious lap into history, more a figure of pity than the legendary figure he should be remembered as.
In faraway Cherthala, notorious as the filariasis capital of Kerala, a wizened KR Gowri is addressing a meeting. The original stormy petrel of the communist movement feels that she should get yet another chance to “help the poor and working class.” Her voice seems to come out of a wheezy voice synthesizer. Yet people like Baiju, an auto driver listening in the audience, says, “We know she is past it, but we owe it to her to elect her.” Her party the Janathipathiya Samrakshana Samithy (JSS) is part of the UDF, despite her life-long association with communism. She is said to have given up her husband when the party split and they chose different sides since it was felt that they had to keep to the strict lines of ideology.
She needs help to walk and seems disoriented. A joyous devotee, Shaji says, she forgets to complete her sentences but with her track record, the faithful will complete them for her. As the sun sets on this coastal town, she is helped into her car, with her election symbol, a bus emblazoned on the side. An offkey song about her past glories begins playing at the venue. As she moves to her next meeting, it looks like she is on a bumpy ride from the workers’ platforms where she was once feared and respected to the geriatric ward of history.