Rahul in Wayanad may contribute to the Left’s fall
Kerala was one state where the Left hoped to do well, since its appeal elsewhere in the country has shrunkUpdated: Apr 10, 2019 10:00 IST
When Congress president Rahul Gandhi announced his intention to also contest from Wayanand besides Amethi— a seat strategically chosen for its location on the tri-state border junction between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — some of the sharpest attacks on the decision came not from the usual opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but from a nominal ally, the Left Front. They decried Rahul’s decision as a betrayal of the unity of “secular forces”. Never mind the fact that Wayanad has traditionally been a Congress stronghold and any candidate of the United Democratic Front (UDF)-Congress-led alliance in Kerala would have won easily. The Left’s angst is understandable.
After being reduced to irrelevance across most parts of the country, the Left is heavily depending on the 20 seats in Kerala, the only state where it is ruling, to shore up its numbers in Parliament. If Gandhi’s candidature has a ripple effect across neighbouring constituencies, as it is likely to, this might upset the Left’s calculations. For the Indian Left, which, immediately after Independence, constituted the second most powerful block in Parliament after the Congress, the decline has been precipitous. This has occurred even as its main opponent, the BJP (or Jana Sangh in its earlier avatar), has grown from strength to strength.
If July 2008 represented the apogee of the Indian Left parties, when they collectively almost brought down the Union government on the Indo-US nuclear deal, the parliamentary elections this year may mark its nadir. Although the Left’s appeal has geographically shrunk over the decades, till recently it could reliably count on its traditional citadels like West Bengal, Tripura and, of course, Kerala to return a healthy chunk of seats The Left Front (comprising the CPI (M), CPI, RSP and AIFB) commanded 59 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha. However, with West Bengal now largely being a fight between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, the Left has become a fringe player in the state. In the 2014 parliamentary polls, it won only two of the 42 seats in West Bengal. With Tripura now hosting a saffron government, the Left’s prospects in the state are not too bright. In any case, the state has just two seats in the Lok Sabha.
So Kerala was the one state where the Left was hoping to do really well. However the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government’s mismanagement last year of the once-in-a-century floods, which devastated large parts of the state, the ham handed manner in which it tried to enforce the Supreme Court order on allowing entry of women into Sabarimala, the hasty introduction and withdrawal of a draft bill to regulate functioning of Churches (properties and institutions) alienating the powerful Christian community, all are likely to have an impact on the poll outcome. The political violence across the state, which left more than 30 dead in the three years of the Left rule, will have a bearing on the results.
Surprisingly the usually fractious UDF seems to have got its act together. Unlike in several other parts of the country, the Congress and its allies were quick to announce their candidates. Also, except for the odd note of dissent, as in Eranakulam, where the five-term Member of Parliament (MP), KV Thomas, was replaced by National Students Union of India leader, Hibi Eden, the UDF seems to have largely got its caste, region and religion balance right. With the Gandhi candidacy factor expected to boost the morale of the alliance workers, the UDF seems to be ahead in the race.
One X-factor on which no two analysts seem to agree is what role the BJP, which is the emerging force in the state, is likely to play. In the last general election, the party got 10.82% of votes but no seats. It came close to getting its maiden Lok Sabha MP from the state’s capital, Thiruvananathapuram, where the Congress’s Shashi Tharoor barely managed to eke out a victory by a margin of 15,7000 votes, in a seat which saw nearly a million votes polled. This time the BJP is hoping for a better performance, which is why its star campaigners, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president, Amit Shah, have repeatedly toured the state. The Left Front would be dearly hoping that the BJP cuts into the UDF’s votes. Otherwise the new Parliament might see the lowest representation of Left parties ever. If that comes to pass, the Left would have nobody but itself to blame because it has failed to adapt to changing aspirations of all sections of the society across the country.
First Published: Apr 09, 2019 19:01 IST