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Viji Pinarayi

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Kerala State Assembly Elections - 2006
The Major Factors that Played

(A review of the outcome of the election to the State Assembly - 2006)‍

1. ‘Anti-incumbency’ Factor
2. Change in the attitude of the minorities towards the UDF and LDF
3. The ‘Ethics’ factor – Social and Political
4. The ‘Development bandwagon’
5. The organizational powers of the CPI (M)

1. The ‘Anti-incumbency’ Factor:

The dissatisfaction in the minds of the electorate was very strong and deep – running in this election. The so-called ‘anti-incumbency wave’ that used to play a major role in almost all elections in the State was very prominent this time, considering the huge margin by which the UDF was voted to power in 2001. There was a strong feeling in the minds of the general public that the Antony and Oommen Chandy - led UDF Governments made a mockery of the interests of people who voted them to power five years back. Many actions taken by the Government were viewed by the ‘common man’ as supporting the interests of only a very small, but wealthy and influential, section of the people instead of safeguarding the wider public interest. The actions taken by the Govt. in issues like self – financing professional colleges, farmers’ and tribals’ issues, sex scandals like the infamous ‘ice cream parlour’ case etc. were viewed by the people as being influenced or even ‘dictated’ by certain ‘highly placed’ forces. The actions taken by the A. K. Antony – led Govt. by robbing the employees in Govt. services of many of their privileges in the name of ‘saving’ the financial status of the State distanced the employees from the UDF, while the stand taken by the Govt. in the issues of self – financing colleges and the SSLC question paper scam made the lakhs of parents think critically about the interests of the Govt. and the Govt.’s failure in extending support to the poverty – stricken farmers and the tsunami – hit families of the costal areas reinforced the feeling that the Govt. is driven by vested interests rather than public interest.

2. Attitude of the minorities:

Right from the very early days, various sects of religious minorities used to form a ‘vote bank’ that traditionally stood by the Congress and the UDF. The Congress and UDF had succeeded in ‘cultivating’ an ‘anti - left’ feeling in the minds of the people belonging to these groups, citing the ‘Communist Ghost’. These minorities used to be ‘tactfully misguided’ for generations by their leaders about the ‘atheist Communists’ standing against the God – fearing believers.

This ‘anti – left’ attitude had naturally started waning over the years. The strong stand taken by the Left parties, especially the CPI (M), in various issues wherein the interests of the minorities were at stake had its positive impact. The shift of attitude started reflecting prominently among the Muslim community of Thalassery and surrounding areas in Kannur District as the CPI (M) proved its mettle in safeguarding the minorities’ interests in the days of communal unrest that ravaged the region in the early eighties. However, this change was not felt in other areas where the minorities were prominent factor, even though they had slowly started identifying the Communists as friends and protectors, rather than enemies, of their faith. At the same time, the parties and groups that had projected themselves as the ‘guardians’ of the minorities slipped into the hands of a few ‘high-handed’ leaders who compromised the interests of the minorities in favour of their vested interests. This was the most evident in the days that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1991. The stand taken by the Muslim League, the major ‘minority party’ in Kerala, met with heavy criticism from prominent leaders from within the party, leading to the first and only split in the party in ‘public interest’ and led to the birth of Indian National League (INL).

In the years to come, changes started manifesting itself from other minority groups also. The harsh experiences faced by the Christian missionaries and groups and the strong stand taken by the Left parties in these issues bred the first seeds of affinity in the minds of the masses towards the Left Front. They slowly identified the real face of the Communist Parties. As the clear and real picture emerged, it was just a matter of time before the minorities changed their attitude towards the Left forces whom they had kept at abeyance for generations.

Coming to the present scenario, it can be seen that many actions taken by the UDF Govt., comprising of parties that were once thought to be the benefactors of the minorities, were viewed by the people of those communities as detrimental to their interests. The Govt.’s failure in curbing the incidents of violence against minorities was attributed to the Govt. being ‘hijacked’ by the very forces behind those incidents. When missionaries were attacked, a Christian Priest was murdered and even the Bishop’s House came under attack, the Govt. was caught ‘napping’. In most of the cases, the culprits were not captured, and even those who were captured were soon seen walking free with impunity. When communal forces run riots twice in the span of one year in Marad, the Govt. was seen ‘sleeping’ happily over the intelligence reports. As the Govt. that boasted of curtaining political violence failed miserably in the face of communal violence, the minorities could not but scorn at the hollowness of its claims. Meanwhile, a statement made by the Chief Minister, Mr. A. K, Antony, regarding the attitude of the minorities was viewed by most as adding insult to injury.

The Muslim League was – or it appeared to be – oblivious to the changes in the mindset of the masses that formed its foundation. The leaders of the party seemed to be happy to believe that the community will continue to stand by them irrespective of whatever the Govt. was indulged in. Not only in the matters of concern within the State, but also in the matters of interest in the National and international levels, the party continued to stick to its pro-Govt. stand which was viewed by many as against the religious interests. The leaders failed to read the ‘writing on the wall’ and didn’t understand that gone are the days when words from Panakkad used to be accepted by the community as religious commands. All these factors added up when the intelligent, thinking masses dealt the party with the first major blow in the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 by defeating the party’s candidate in the Manjeri constituency that was considered as one of the two unshakable fortresses of the party in the State. For the first time in history, the Muslim masses aligned themselves behind the CPI (M), the party that they once viewed as ‘untouchable’.

The shocking loss at Manjeri seemed to shake the leadership a little bit, even though they pretended to believe that the loss was just an ‘aberration’. In a desperate attempt to regain some foothold, the leaders of the party dusted up the report of the Justice Narendran Commission that studied the imbalance of strength of backward classes and communities in the Govt. services and recommended actions to remedy the losses incurred by the communities. It was evident that the Govt. will not be able to bring about consensus in the issue and implement the recommendations because some of the major caste – based organizations were sure to oppose any move in this direction. To save face, the leaders of the Muslim League ‘cooked up’ an ‘eye – wash’ solution and prompted the govt. to announce some decisions. They then attempted to project the decisions as their ‘victory’ in getting the Commission’s recommendations executed. However, the move did not gather enough momentum as the opposition Left parties pointed out the shortfalls. Even some leaders of the Muslim League were forced to agree that the actions taken by the Govt. would result not in achieving any gains for the community, but in even more losses. Even as the leaders of the party continued blabbering about their success in getting the Report implemented, the thinking youth were not in a mood to swallow the tall claims. They knew that the party that they believed in through all these years was no more ‘their’ party and that the party and its leaders had other interests. The shift in the mindset of the new generation is evident in the voting pattern in various constituencies in Malappuram district. The LDF recorded a huge leap of 2,28,829 votes more than what they had got in 2001, whereas UDF vote share recorded a marginal increase of 45,413. In other words, more than 83% of new voters lined up with the LDF whereas the UDF managed only 16.5%. Another notable piece of statistics comes from Kuttippuram, where the LDF candidate, Mr. K. T. Jaleel, registered an ‘absolute majority’ polling 64,207 votes out of the total 1,28,400. This was the first time an LDF candidate won more than 50% of votes in the Muslim League bastion, in sharp contrast with 2001 when the LDF had won just 29.8% of votes – means a growth of more than 20%. Yes, the people – the young generation - have started thinking independently.

3. Social and Political Ethics:

Unlike most of the previous elections, this time, social and political values and ethics played active role in deciding the fate of many candidates. The people declared their contempt towards the leaders and candidates whose political / social life appeared to be stained, thereby sending a clear message to all parties that concepts of ethics still have their value and the electorate are not going to tolerate leaders just because of their political affiliation.

The most prominent candidate who came in for the electorate’s wrath in this category is Mr. P. K. Kunhalikkutty, former Minister and the ‘almighty’ leader of the Muslim League. When his name was dragged into controversy in the infamous ‘ice cream parlour’ sex scandal and the major witness in the case spoke out indicting him and alleging that he and his aides had used money and power to silence the witnesses and bail himself out, what the people expected from him was a dignified approach. The string of incidents that followed, however, resulted in projecting him not as an innocent victim of false accusations, but as someone who is desperate to mask his tainted face and paint a ‘handsome’ picture of himself. The subsequent ‘vault face’ by the witness and the actions by Kunnhalikkutty himself and his aides and supporters aided only to make the matters worse for him. Even after all these, he remained unmoved and adamant in his stand. Even though he had to budge eventually to the pressure, the damage was already done. The ‘overnight’ change in the lifestyle of some of the witnesses in the case reiterated the public belief that their testimonies that apparently exonerated him were, in fact, ‘purchased’ by him. The claims of ‘clean chits’ got from the courts proved to be of no value in the People’s Court. This was evident in one interesting piece of statistics – In the 2001 elections, the percentage of woman voters who cast their votes in Kuttippuram, the seat that gave Mr. Kunhalikkutty a majority of over 26,000 votes, was just about 56, whereas this time, the figure shot up to around 88%, and the LDF candidate amassed, for the first time in history, more than 50% of the votes polled. Yes, the Muslim woman folk have made it clear – they are no mere just shadows or mere puppets in the hands of their men. They DO think and think so sharp.

A number of other Ministers also had to face charges of corruption and other allegations. In some cases, even the courts had intervened and stated in no unclear terms that not everything is fare. A Minister was even indicted by the High Court as having links with mafia. The Chief Minister, instead of asking the Minister to step down, rushed to the Supreme Court to save the Minister’s face. Another Minister was charged with intimidating the witnesses in a case regarding the functioning of his Department. Whatever the verdict of the courts may be, the real ‘Supreme’ Court – the people – gave its verdict loud and clear by unseating the tainted ministers.

While the UDF, led by the Chief Minister himself, went into ‘overdrive’ to save the faces of the tainted leaders, the LDF, on the other hand, proved their adherence to the high standards of ethics by denying candidature to Mr. Neelalohithadasan Nadar who was convicted on charges of misbehaviour with two women officials and to Mr. Antony Raju who was charged with tampering with the evidence in a criminal case. Even though the LDF was aware of the ‘hold’ Mr. Nadar had among the electorate of Kovalam and the possibility of losing the seat by keeping him out, the Front did not budge to the pressure. This stand did result in their losing the seat, but eventually played a crucial role in projecting a clear picture of the front as one sticking to the ethics, which, in turn, reaped them even larger benefits in the form of victory over most of the tainted rival leaders like Mr. Kunhalikkutty, Mr. K. P. Viswanathan and others.

On the political front also, the electorate reiterated that ethics is still a major factor. The parties and leaders who dumped even the last shreds of ethics in favour of temporary gains were promptly ‘dumped’ by the masses. The biggest loser in this category is, beyond doubt, the DIC (K), fathered by Mr. K. Karunakaran, the senior-most political leader of the state, out of his love for his son, Mr. K. Muraleedharan. The party initially took a leftward - like stand, stressing the need for cooperation with progressive forces and co-operated with the LDF in the elections to the local bodies. As the party won some considerable gains by this move, the leaders continued their vehement ‘attacks’ on the Congress party, their parent organization, and the UDF. Flanking them were two other parties – the ‘fractions’ of Kerala Congress led by former ministers, Mr. T. M. Jacob and Mr. R. Balakrishna Pillai - which were earlier part of the UDF. At times, these three parties seemed to be ‘overtaking’ even the opposition parties in criticizing the UDF Govt. and raising allegations of corruption against the ministers. However, it was clear that their anti-Govt. stand was born out of the ‘power – hungry’ nature of the leaders rather than any principles or ethics. The moment the LDF clarified their stand regarding the relation with these parties, the leaders promptly performed another volt face and returned to the UDF, conveniently forgetting all the allegations they had thrown just days back. The leaders negotiated and ensured ‘safe’ seats for them to contest the elections, forgetting their followers. They grossly underestimated the feelings and thinking power of the people, but the electorate had other ideas. The leaders of DIC, which once claimed that they would be a ‘decisive force’ in forming the Govt., were decisively thrown out by the electorate while Mr. Balakrishna Pillai was shown the door by the people of his ‘own’ Kottarakkara. In many constituencies, workers / supporters of the Congress or DIC came up as ‘rebels’ against the official candidates of the front. These ‘rebel forces’ also played crucial role in scuttling the chances of the UDF in many seats like Aranmula, where the ‘official candidate’ of DIC lost not only the seat, but also the security deposit, having polled only 8000 – odd votes. It was the rebel candidate from Congress who came second as the LDF captured the seat by a huge margin.

A different kind of lack of ethics on the part of the UDF was evident in the way it behaved in dealing with the issue of the imprisonment of Mr. Abdul Nassar Máadani. He was charged with conspiracy in the serial bomb blasts that rocked Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu in 1993. Following the request of the Tamil Nadu Govt., he was arrested and handed over to the Tamil Nadu Police by the earlier LDF Govt. led by Mr. E. K. Nayanar. As allegations of his torture in prison were raised, the UDF took a stand in his favour. During the campaign for election to the Assembly in 2001, the leaders announced their support to Mr. Máadani and declared that every effort will be taken to ensure his release. In their attempt to appease the leaders of his party, the PDP, which had strong and deep roots in some of the minority – prominent areas of the state, some leaders of the UDF even announced that if they were voted to power, his release would be achieved and he will be accorded reception along with the newly elected MLAs and ministers. Subsequently, Mr. Máadani declared his party’s support to the UDF in the elections. However, soon after the UDF was voted to power, the leaders ‘forgot’ their promises. No efforts were made to extend any help to Mr. Máadani, who was still lodged in prison as under-trial. To make the matters worse, he was denied even a parole to have a last glimpse of his grand mother who passed away in 2003. A fax message sent by the police to the Tamil Nadu Govt., saying that his release would spark off communal unrest in the state, was the major ‘weapon’ used by the Tamil Nadu Govt. in forcing the denial of parole to him. Thus, not only did the leaders of the UDF not extend any support for his release, but also took a stand detrimental to the very demand in this direction. The attitude shown by the UDF Govt., which was helped by the PDP to some extent to wrest power, was viewed not only by the followers of the party, but also by a major section of the public as plain ‘cheating’. This forced not only his followers, but also a considerable section of the electorate who wanted a more humanitarian approach in the case, to voice their protest by upsetting the UDF dreams of a comeback.

4. The ‘Development bandwagon’:

The UDF, in an attempt to compensate for all the possible losses due to various factors, tried to concentrate on a ‘single point agenda’ of development of the state in heir campaign for the elections. They tried desperately to project themselves as the lone proponents of the idea of development. They claimed that their Govt. was the ‘last bus’ to development and announced plans after plans that they claimed to be aimed at development and strengthening the financial base of the state. At the same time, they also accused the opposition LDF of hindering the Govt’s efforts for achieving development by strikes and allegations. Whenever the LDF questioned the motives behind the Govt’s actions, the leaders of the UDF tried to brand the opposition and ‘anti – development minded’.

When the LDF aired their opposition to the plans of developing an ‘Express Highway’ along the length of the state, citing the possible ill – effects on nature and its utility being limited to the very small minority of the wealthy and ‘high – class’ people and uselessness to the ‘common man’, the UDF leaders accused them of hindering the development of roads, and when they (LDF) opposed sand - mining in the costal areas of Alappuzha, they were accused of stalling the growth of the costal areas. When the Govt. proposed and conducted the ‘Global Investors’ Meet’ (GIM), which was projected by the UDF and the Govt. as the ‘one – stop shop’ for development solutions for the state, LDF promised its whole – hearted support to the plans of development proposed. This reiterated the Front’s stand supporting the development of the state. However, the net result of the much – hyped ‘GIM’ was naught. Out of the ‘million – dollar’ projects announced at the Meet, nothing materialised. This exposed the Govt’s ‘double standards’ in the issue of development.

Then came the turn of ‘Smart City’, the proposal for developing an Information Technology Park and related facilities in the city of Kochi, by a Dubai – based company. On the face of it, the project looked like a brilliant idea aimed at developing Kochi as the ‘IT hub’ of the state, thereby opening up endless possibilities of development in the state in the field of IT. However, it turned out that the plan consists of handing over the ‘Info Park’, an existing software park developed by the Govt. in the city, and related infrastructure, in addition to acres of surrounding land to the Dubai – based private company, at a nominal cost. Also, the Govt. will not be allowed to support the development of any similar projects in a vast area – almost two thirds of the state. The Govt. claimed that, in return to all these facilities, the ‘Smart City’ would generate 33,000 jobs in the park. If the promised jobs did not materialise, the company would pay a nominal compensation of Rs. 6000 per job. Naturally, the plan was strongly opposed by the opposition parties. The Govt. and the UDF were prompt in projecting this opposition as an indication of the ‘anti – development’ stand of the LDF.

Even though the Govt. branded the LDF stand as an attempt to scuttle the development of the state, they were forced to rethink and change many of the clauses of the original proposal, like changing the plan of sale of the land and leasing it out instead, inclusion of provision for taking back the land in case of the company’s failure to keep their promise etc. However, the ‘major issues’ remained unattended. The Govt. stood adamant in handing over the Info Park and related infrastructure. Also, the clause of restricting the Govt. from facilitating the development of similar parks continued to be in force, albeit across a smaller area. Meanwhile, the Govt. stopped allotment of floor space / plots in the existing Info Park citing the imminent handing over of the Park for ‘Smart City’. This inaction, in effect, resulted in stalling the development of the Info Park and denying the opportunities to hundreds of young professionals who could have secured jobs had the new companies been allowed to set up their facilities in the area. The LDF stood strongly opposing these proposals, and the Govt. and the UDF continued to project this opposition as an indication of the ‘anti – development mindedness’ of the Left parties, whereas it was, in fact, the Govt’s stand itself that was hindering the development of the area.

As the elections drew near, the Govt. and the UDF strengthened their efforts to paint themselves as the ‘Apostles of Development’ and to project a rosy picture of the development of the state. The ‘number games’ were soon on, with the Govt. and UDF leaders playing around with figures of financial growth and economy statistics, like the growth grate reaching double figures and allocating crores of rupees for proposed projects etc. At the same time, the financial deficit and debts of the state was growing at astronomical proportions. From the cumulative debt of around 23,000 crores accumulated over 45 years since the formation of the state, the figure jumped to over 47,000 cores in just five years. 10% economic growth and 100% growth of debts! On the other side, the Left parties countered the Govt’s claims with a rather simple question – When hundreds of farmers are forced to commit suicide, faced with the grim realities of huge losses and poverty, what kind of ‘development’ is the Govt. talking about? Of what use is the figures of ‘economic growth’ to the common man who is struggling to make both ends meet? When lower and middle class families are being crushed by the breakneck prices of everyday needs, whose ‘development’ is the Govt. boasting about? Of what use is the ‘Express Highway’ when even the day’s bread becomes a luxury for the hundreds of pavement dwellers? Conducting seminars on poverty in banquet halls of Five - Star hotels, whose development is the Govt. discussing? The Govt. and the UDF had no answers, but the common people HAD. The UDF asked for a mandate for development, and the electorate gave the answer on the very first opportunity – We DON’T want the kind of development YOU are proposing. We want the day’s bread, NOT the dessert of 10.75 (or whatever) percent economic growth. We want that kind of development, which does not sell out the state to the million – dollar Corporates. We want growth of prices of our agricultural products and not that of our everyday needs. The flood of answers by the thinking majority of Kerala simply drowned the UDF.

5. The organizational powers of the CPI (M):

The organizational structure and intra-party issues of the CPI (M), the major party in the opposition LDF, was subject to very close ‘examination’ during the days of the elections. There was a strong, ‘mass – propaganda like’ approach by a large section of the press and visual media in projecting the party as being plagued by factionalism. The party’s stand in almost every issue, be it the ‘Smart City’ or Express Highway, or sand – mining or the political approach towards DIC (K), was projected as the ‘victory’ of one faction over the other. It was claimed that the leadership of the party under Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, the State Secretary of the Party, is in favour of a more ‘liberal’ stand whereas the faction led by the leader of the opposition, Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan, was demanding a more stringent adherence to the ‘principles’. A section of the media went to great lengths to scrutinize every decision taken by the party and attribute it to the stand of one faction or the other. They also ‘segregated’ the senior leaders of the Party under these ‘factions’. When these ‘media brains’ found that certain statements by some of these leaders do not suite the projected picture, they simply performed some ‘verbal acrobatics’ and branded the leader as having changed his allegiance..!

When the Party decided that Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan would not be contesting the elections, the propaganda reached unprecedented heights. The party leadership was accused of sidelining VS with certain ‘vested interests’. The UDF leaders also jumped to grab the opportunity and tried to gain political mileage by painting a tarnished image of the party as being plagued by faction feud and inducing anti – party sentiments in the minds of the supporters of the party. Another ‘strange’ kind of move was also observed, when followers and workers of some anti-left parties took to streets with demonstrations and poster-pamphlet propaganda, claiming to be in support of VS. This move appeared to have made some gains when some confusion crept into the minds of some supporters of the party, prompting them also to voice their support to Mr. Achuthanandan. This confusion prompted the party to change the earlier decision and field Mr. Achuthanandan both as a candidate and as the leader of the election campaign. Once this decision came out, the UDF propagandists changed their voice, made Mr. Achuthanandan the isolated target and started attacking him, accusing him of being ‘anti – development’ minded. However, instead of reaping gains for the UDF, this move backlashed. Mr. Achuthanandan became the ‘centre of attraction’, leading to his drawing larger audience wherever he went and the party’s message getting driven into the minds of larger and larger sections of the public.

Even as the UDF and the political agenda-driven media continued their attack on the party, the CPI (M) cadres worked in a precise and well – planned method to prevent any undercurrents and clear the doubts sowed by the propagandists in the minds of the supporters of the Party. The organizational machinery of the party made put in brilliant efforts to defeat the anti – party propaganda unleashed by the UDF and assisted by large sections of the media. With only the grassroots level workers of the party for propagating their stand and ‘Deshabhimani’, the party mouthpiece, alone for support, the party cadres functioned fantastically in not only keeping the party’s mass base intact, but also making inroads into the minds of sections of the masses otherwise opposed to the party.

The brilliance of these efforts was the most evident in districts like Malappuram and Idukky, the traditional strongholds of the UDF. While the Party succeeded in capturing as many as 5 seats in Malappuram, a place which was synonymous with the Muslim League ever since the district was formed, the CPI (M) – led LDF overthrew the UDF in Idukky, which had been almost ‘monopolized’ by the Congress over the last decades. The Congress could not win even a single seat, as the lone UDF success came in the form of the Kerala Congress (M) candidate who won the Idukky seat. Another major upset was achieved in Waynad district, where all the three seats were traditionally held by the Congress. All the seats were captured by the LDF.

As the Party and the Front went on capturing new frontiers elsewhere, the Party cadres continued their efficient work in their traditional strongholds as systematically as ever, sweeping the seats in the northern districts. The most notable victory in this area was the capture of Manjeswaram seat, where the party candidate used to be content with the third place in the elections over the pas couple of decades. The Muslim League used to be the winner, with BJP coming second. But this time, the picture turned upside down. The CPI (M) captured the seat, relegating the sitting MLA of Muslim League to the third place. The Party correctly sensed the shift in the political balance in the area that was observed in the recent elections to the local bodies. The Party machinery functioned like a well – oiled system, staging effective campaigns and managing to garner support from the voters who are working in places like Mumbai and prompting them to come to the homeland to caste their votes. These victories were, beyond doubt, the greatest achievement of the organizational strength of the CPI (M).

Thus, the thumping victory achieved by the Left Democratic Front in Kerala can be viewed as the combined result of both negative votes showing displeasure at the Government as well as positive votes in approval of the pro – people stand taken by the LDF. While negative votes played in dethroning the Govt., it was the positive votes that saw the Left Front sweeping seats with huge majorities. The electorate not only rejected the Govt’s policies and style of functioning, but also approved the stand taken by the Left Parties in issues concerning public interest. The results is a clear indication of the people’s recognition of the Left parties as the force that stand by them when their interests are at stake.


~ വിജി പിണറായി ~
~ Viji Pinarayi ~

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