If Chief Minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Pinarayi Vijayan gets another term, it will be “sarvanasham” (disastrous) for Kerala, declared AK Antony, the three-term Chief Minister and senior Congress leader, a fortnight ahead of the April 6 assembly elections.
As the man who made renunciation an art form and armed with a reputation of unimpeachable probity, Antony is that rare politician who everyone takes seriously. If the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) loses this election after leading in the initial phase, one can reasonably say that the tide turned against the LDF around the time Antony made this comment.
So, what happens to the LDF and, more specifically, to the CPI (M), if it were to lose this election? This question becomes more pertinent in the context of the Left’s decimation in West Bengal and Tripura. Will it be the end of the communist movement in India — at least for the time being?
If Left Loses
It would be beneficial to the CPI (M) itself to sit in Opposition for a term to lose some of the flab and negative attributes which tend to accumulate during a stint in power. Come to think of it, unlike in West Bengal, it has been Kerala’s revolving door politics which has ensured that the party is still going strong in the state. The party is constantly forced to reinvent and make itself relevant to the times to get another shot at power; thereby ensuring that nobody has a permanent claim to the top post, unlike the five-term uninterrupted run of Jyoti Basu in West Bengal.
Yes, if the CPI (M) were to lose it would be the end of the Pinarayi Vijayan-era, heralding a new dawn in the party. After putting all its eggs in one basket and promoting Vijayan as ‘Captain’, a lot of silently disapproving leaders such as MA Baby would attempt to cut Vijayan to size with the CPI (M) Party Congress scheduled early next year. It may not be all that easy as Vijayan has an iron grip on the party apparatus, with the all-powerful position of state secretary rendered a powerless under his regime.
A Better Left
The murmurs within the CPI (M) will only grow louder if it were to lose by a small margin. Some of the powerful ministers who were forced to sit this election out because of a two-term clause could bay for Vijayan’s blood in that event. The CPI (M) in Kerala has historically had a power struggle between its Kannur unit and the rest, and the rank and file of the party in south Kerala would hope to have one of their own in the leadership position. Vijayan wouldn’t go down without a fight, and it would be interesting to see if there emerges a schism within the Kannur unit itself, which would make things tougher for him.
An LDF loss would, in all probability, see the CPI (M) move to a more social democratic framework as that would be the only way going forward. The change of leadership to a more democratic face could also open the possibility of the merger of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and CPI (M) as a way of strengthening the cadre.
Instead, a second term for Vijayan would be an interesting premise to consider. Vijayan could get elevated to a Stalin-esque demi-god status with none left to point a finger at him, leading to a situation of excesses and a gradual erosion of the traditional rank and file. With few senior leaders getting a ticket to contest this time around, the Cabinet could also end up becoming a rubber stamp, and such a concentration of power will engender long-standing issues.
A Vijayan second term could also spell doom for the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) waiting in the wings. In such a scenario, if the BJP were to emerge as the primary Opposition ahead of the Congress in the next five years, it could lead to a spell of lawlessness and chaos with the cadre of the two parties clashing openly with each other across the state.
Whether Antony’s fervent appeal made an impact on Kerala voters will be clear on May 2.