(Image credit: Suneesh K)
Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been only six Presidents of the United States who could not win a second term — William Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr and Donald Trump. In India too, more Prime Ministers have been re-elected to office than shown the door. Among those who got two or more terms are Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi.
In Kerala, the story has been slightly different. In the past 40 years, six leaders have become Chief Ministers, but none have been voted back to power. In fact, many have struggled to complete a single term in office — and most of the time it’s thanks to infighting within the party or alliance.
This time, will Kerala break this jinx of alternating governments? A peek into how sitting Chief Ministers and governments have gone all out for ‘bharana thudarcha’ (continuation of government) will be interesting.
Dropping The Baton
In 1991, Chief Minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader EK Nayanar, buoyed by a pro-Left wave in the local body elections, opted to seek a second term, and advanced the assembly elections by almost a year. The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) lost that election to the Congress’ United Democratic Front (UDF).
Congress leader K Karunakaran formed the government in 1991, but thanks to infighting within the Congress, he had to step aside and make way for AK Antony who became Chief Minister for the remaining term.
In the 1996 elections, Kerala swung to the Left, and Nayanar once again became Chief Minister. Interestingly, had VS Achuthanandan won his seat from Mararikulam, he would have become Chief Minister. To-date, Achuthanandan’s loss by a narrow margin is attributed to infighting within the Left party.
In 2001, though Achuthanandan won, the LDF lost out to an Antony-led UDF. History repeated itself, but this time Antony was at the receiving end, when he had to step aside before completing his term; and made way for Oommen Chandy.
There was no denying Achuthanandan in 2006 when he finally got to head an LDF government, and in 2011 the political circles were convinced he was lined for a second term. However, once again infighting within the CPI(M) came to the fore, it resulted in the rise of the Pinarayi Vijayan faction within the party, which eventually saw the Chandy-led UDF winning the 2006 polls with a wafer-thin margin of two seats.
Unlike his predecessors in the Congress, Chandy got to finish his full term in office and was looking good for another term in the 2016 polls. That’s when acts of omission and commission by senior Congress leaders were as damaging as the Opposition’s efforts, resulting in the LDF winning the 2016 polls.
A Confident Vijayan
Now, in 2021, just as the UDF is pinning its hopes on history repeating itself and the pendulum of power swinging its way after five years spent out of power, comes the systematic and orchestrated effort by the LDF government to retain power for the next five years. While the Congress is going hammer and tongs against the LDF, targeting Vijayan for his ‘autocratic’ style of functioning, Vijayan is not hassled. The main reason for this could be that there are no visible signs of rumbling from within the LDF.
The Opposition is trying hard to establish motives in some social media posts by CPI(M) leaders belonging to the ‘Kannur lobby’ who have fallen out of Vijayan’s favour. Yet, the Chief Minister appears convinced the situation that prevails in the party now is no patch on the infightings that once plagued the CPI(M).
Another reason for Vijayan’s confidence is the situation in the Congress, where a significant number of leaders have expressed a lack of confidence in the state leadership. Add to this the decadence that factionalism has brought in the Congress. Sections within the CPI(M) believe that the disarray within the UDF has rendered it incapable of threatening the LDF’s position. Discontent within the LDF remains muted as many feel that there would be a backlash if the Vijayan government comes back to power. At another level, it is believed that the BJP’s growth will be at the cost of Congress.
That said, the UDF feels that history will repeat itself this time as well. Congress leaders feel that the last week of campaigning has turned the tide in its favour. Ultimately, both sides have reason to remain on tenterhooks as it can no longer be said that a record voter turnout favours one at the cost of the other. Because neither fronts are sure how an improved showing by the BJP will shape the final outcome.