Constituency: Dharmadam | CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan defeated INC’s C. Raghunathan and BJP’s C.K. Padmanabhan to win Dharmadam seat. (Image: News18 Creative)
Following the red sweep that engulfed Kerala on May 2, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in an interaction with the media said the mandate for a consecutive second term was an endorsement of the care taken by his government in times of a series of natural calamities and epidemic outbreaks. He also said it was the people snubbing both the Opposition in the state and the Centre for portraying his government and him as criminals.
Now, it is no secret that Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala went all guns blazing against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the last couple of years. To be fair, some allegations raised by him had the potential to derail the government. These included, the allegation that the government, during the initial days of COVID-19 in 2020, illegally handed over personal data of citizens to a United States-based analytics company (Sprinklr), the allegations of signing a contract to hand over deep-sea fishing rights off Kerala coast to US-based company (EMCC), allegations about questionable appointments of party sympathisers and relatives of party leaders to government posts, and allegations about multiple voter ID cards.
Another allegation which caught the attention of even national media was the state government’s involvement in a gold smuggling racket.
After each expose, Chennithala went home satisfied that he had done enough to earn his post as the Chief Minister of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government that many believed would inevitably dislodge the LDF government. Unfortunately for Chennithala, not many UDF leaders took up these issues. Nor did the party/alliance have the foot soldiers or a plan on how to take these issues to the people and get them talking about it.
Arguably, if the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was in the Opposition and if they were the ones raising these allegations, the party cadre would have made it difficult for the government to carry out its daily business — the siege of the secretariat in May 2015 being a case in point.
Did the Leader of Opposition overplay the allegations card, especially because seldom were they pursued — and did this lead to the public developing a sense of apathy towards Chennithala? Chennithala, having done his bit, evidently felt let down that not many in his party or in the UDF supported him.
Truth be told, there was no urge felt by the people reeling under a series of calamities to rock the government, as the general feeling was it had fared pretty well given the circumstances. In retrospect, it was these calamities that helped develop a bond with the government, which was perceived to have stood by them in their hours of crises.
At another level, it also marked the abject failure of the Congress to do the right thing by its Kerala unit that stood a decent chance to form the next government. Instead of allowing the Kerala unit to up its ante, the party high command kept presuming they knew what was best for Kerala. They lorded over finalising the candidate list and when they finally froze it after week-long chopping and change, it was as if that was enough to win the seats.
Also shot to smithereens was the misplaced importance accorded to the star campaigning duo of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and the unrealistic levels of expectation placed on the siblings to work miracles at whichever constituency they stopped during their whirlwind tour.
The LDF wave flattened the lesser UDF allies as it did the Congress which could manage to win only 21 seats from the 95 it contested. Consequently, senior ally the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) could muster only 15 of the 27 seats it contested. The Kerala Congress faction which remained with the UDF manage only two seats, whereas the faction which went with the LDF won five seats.
Though a bit premature, one can take an educated guess and say that the mistrust brewing between the Muslims and the Christians has reflected in the way the communities voted in the Malabar region (especially Malappuram) and in central Travancore (Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Idukki). Inexplicably, the LDF convinced both communities that they were safe only with the Left.
The Congress’ efforts to usher in a generation change by side-lining seasoned leaders backfired. Quite telling was a remark heard on May 2 — Keralites could not be bothered to surrender their fate in such calamitous times to a band of politicians with no clear leader and who had to turn to Delhi before taking important decisions. Providentially, they had a time-tested government and a proven leader who took his own decisions; so what if some of them were wrong.