If Yogendra Yadav’s desire to see the death of the Congress party had dismayed many in India, a wishful whisper from an ardent Communist follower, to see the complete annihilation of the Communist Party of India (M), had shocked me no end too. As we stood on the pavement with the traffic blaring around us, I was unsure if I had heard it right. With unbelieving rounded eyes, I strained my ears to catch every word, he seemed to nod that I heard him correct: “The Communist Party is no longer what it was,” came another sad whisper. “It’s only a shadow of its former self.”
Though pre-poll surveys indicated that the Left parties had little hope in Kerala in the Lok Sabha elections, I had totally dismissed this conversation from my mind till the results started pouring in. The Left in Kerala was completely routed way more than what their worst enemies would have imagined.
In the wake of the BJP’s stupendous performance, many regional and national parties are facing an existential crisis; they have begun looking inwards or, to use the much exhausted word, introspecting, as to what went wrong.
Though quite another story is playing out at the national level, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is gloating in Kerala for having pulled off a victory by winning 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats. On the other hand, the Left parties, I guess, are doing what our media friends have been relentlessly advising them to do: introspecting.
To say the magnitude of the Left front’s loss in Kerala is colossal would be an understatement. Many sitting Left Democratic Front (LDF) MLAs who contested came a cropper and the lone seat, Alappuzha, was won by A M Arif. He barely managed to scrape through by the skin of his teeth with 10474 votes that constitutes less than one per cent margin.
Of the 140 Assembly segments, the LDF led in only 16 seats with diminished margins, while it came in third, behind the BJP, in seven Assembly constituencies: Kazhakoottam, Thiruvananthpuram, Vattiyoorkavu, Nemom, Manjeshwaram. Trissur and Kasaragod. In 10 Lok Sabha constituencies they could not lead in any of the Assembly segments. The overall difference in margins between the two major fronts UDF and LDF touched a high of 12 per cent.
In particular, the loss of Vadakara constituency which gave K Muraleedharan a margin of victory of 84,663 votes is causing much heartburn. P Jayarajan, the Kannur CPM District Secretary, the CPI (M) candidate from Vadakara, though arraigned in two murder cases, had the full backing of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. (He is part of the powerful Kannur lobby that has much hold in the CPM State Secretariat).
A full week before the UDF had announced their list of candidates, the LDF was already campaigning and the entire organisational machinery from the neighbouring Kannur was in place to ensure that Jayarajan would win handsomely.
The story goes that in the UDF camp, no one was willing to take on the mighty Jayarajan and K Muraleedharan, MLA of Vattiyoorkavu and a former MP from Kozhikode, was cajoled to take up the challenge. It was no mean task for him but Rahul Gandhi contesting in neighbouring Wayanad and T P Chandrasekharan’s Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) campaigning hard against political violence seemed to have favoured Muraleedharan.
Muraleedharan’ sister Padmaja Venugopal had told The Kochi Post that though they were not voicing it loudly, many of CPI (M)’s own members were totally against the candidature of P Jayarajan. As reported by The Kochi Post in April, the women too had decided to vote against political violence in the place. As the campaign against Jayarajan’s political violence mounted from all sides, Jayarajan had to adopt a defensive stand that he himself was a victim of violence. His slogans sounded pitiable in sharp contrast to his strongman image.
What would surprise and shock the Left will be the haemorrhaging of the cadre votes itself. Vadakara constituency has a large cadre population and with the support of Loktantrik Janata Dal, Jayarajan had expected to romp home comfortably. But that was not the case for they remained ahead only in one Assembly constituency in Vadakara and in 2 Assembly constituencies in neighbouring Kannur, strongholds of the CPI (M).
In Vijayan’s own constituency, Dharmadom, the LDF managed to stay ahead by a narrow 4000-odd votes and retained minister E P Jayarajan’s Mattannur but shockingly, the LDF stronghold Taliparamba Assembly constituency was wrested by the Congress—Taliparamba has always been faithful to the Left but this time they too abandoned them. Palakkad, another CPM bastion for 23 years, where M B Rajesh had a good chance of winning the seat for a third time, lost by 11637 votes. His loss has been attributed to intra-party squabbling.
One of the major reasons that they lost out in Kannur, Vadakara and Kasaragod is that the Left has been alienating the people. Keezhattur, which lies in Taliparambu Assembly constituency (Kannur LS seat), has seen protests for more than three years by Vayalkilikal. They have been protesting against the National Highway cutting through their paddy fields.
Political analysts think that the loss in Taliparamba is due to CPI (M)’s utter disregard for people and environment in the name of development. There is no space for dissent in the present Pinarayi Government and even the CPI (M) State Committee members are afraid to voice their disagreement.
Post V S Achuthanandan, the perception of the Left as a people-friendly, environmental-friendly party has been whittled away by none other than the CPI (M) itself. Though they seem to be pro-farmer elsewhere in the country, in Kerala, they have been following a development agenda disregarding the people’s wishes.
The other factor that led to the rout is the Sabarimala issue where Pinarayi Vijayan seemed to be rushing to implement the Supreme Court order of allowing menstruating women into the Sabarmiala temple without considering the devotees’ wishes. Instead of taking the people into confidence, the Left seemed to be in a tearing hurry in enforcing the judgment.
The so-called progressive stance of the Left did not find favour with the devotees. With the BJP taking on the government in the sacred hills, it might have been a political game plan to relegate the Congress to the margins in Kerala but that seems to have backfired.
The Sabarimala action following the Kerala Floods, where many had begun to believe the disaster was man-made and, the poor tackling of post-flood relief seemed to completely alienate people of all sections.
The games that the Left have played, in the past, in choosing their candidates have seen the erosion of their vote-bank. In 2014, in what seemed like hara-kiri, the Left parties had fielded four independent candidates as if there were a dearth of leaders in the Left fold.
This time they fielded one independent, P V Anvar, a sitting MLA, who is also a controversial businessman, in Ponnani. Of those four, only two won in 2014 in the midst of allegations that these were “paid seats”—tickets sold to independent candidates. Bennet Abraham’s candidature in Thiruvananthapuram (a CPI seat) and Christy Fernandez’s candidature in Ernakulam and their subsequent loss came under a cloud.
In 2014, Shashi Tharoor was battling a perception problem following the death of his wife and people had tired of K V Thomas in Ernakulam but in both these seats, ripe for the plucking, rank outsiders were given the opportunity to contest.
The by-election to six Assembly constituencies will happen by November but how will the Left fare in these by-elections is the big question. One can spend hours poring over the figures backwards and forwards and arrive at all sorts of conclusions and even blame Rahul Gandhi in the end. Rahul Gandhi was the Left’s favourite punching bag during the elections. They seemed to hate him with a vengeance and even echoed the lines of the BJP that he was running away from Amethi. The announcement of his candidature and the large crowds greeting him in Wayanad had shaken the Left parties, and now, their worst fears have come true.
The edifice of the CPI (M) as a people’s party, fighting for the rights of the people still remains in the minds of Keralites but that too is fading away. At a time when the country is shifting towards the Right, the Left would have been a balancing force mobilising people to counter the hegemony of the Right wing. But alas, they couldn’t hold on to their last bastion in this election. Will it go the West Bengal and Tripura way?