When the CPI(M) central committee meet in New Delhi concluded last week, workers were seen distributing sweets in faraway Kerala. Why? The state unit had prevailed over a desperate attempt by its West Bengal counterpart to sew up an alliance with the Congress Party.
The Kerala communists are aware that a tie-up in West Bengal would dent their electoral prospects in the state, one of the Left’s last bastions in the country.
Relegated to oblivion in West Bengal, the Left is desperately trying to wrest power in Kerala. Going by the state’s poll arithmetic, which alternates between ruling coalitions every five years, it is time to turn Left. However, things may not be as easy this time around.
The ruling Congress-led UDF is trying hard to rewrite poll history in the state, and distant third-runner BJP is set to give a tough fight to both the UDF and the LDF in at least one-third of its seats (totalling 140). So, with the stacks heavily loaded against all the three, they are busy wooing caste and community leaders. The shift in the Left’s tactics – which has gone from preaching atheism to conducting ‘secular yoga classes’ and taking an active interest in temple politics – is a classic example of this.
Despite setbacks in three by-elections, the Left proved that it was still a force to reckon with by winning 60% of the seats in the recent local body polls – considered the semi-final before the assembly polls.
Unlike Bengal, the cadre base of Kerala’s Leftist parties remains intact. For a change, the top leadership of the party is posing a united front – opposition leader V S Achuthanandan and his bet noire, former secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, have buried their rivalry for now.
As 92-year-old VS remains the party’s biggest hope of victory, the party is no mood to antagonise him. Party general secretary Sitaram Yechury heaped praises on him after the local body polls, even stating that age was no criterion when it comes to contesting elections.
Meanwhile, an intense debate rages over who will become the chief minister in case of a Leftist victory – VS or Vijayan. While there is little doubt that VS will extract his pound of flesh, many in the party fear that there would be a tussle for the top post once the time is ripe.
On the positive side, the CPI(M) has enough fodder to target its main opponents in the state. It plans to take on the UDF by using the charges against chief minister Oommen Chandy, finance minister KM Mani’s exit, the solar scam and the bar controversy to full effect.
“The state has never seen such a corrupt regime. The people are waiting for an opportunity to boot it out,” said VS. Well, the answer will be known only once the polls begin.