The state of Kerala recently witnessed what many would call an odd political moment
The state of Kerala recently witnessed what many would call an odd political moment. Former Kerala Pradesh Mahila Congress president Latika Subhash tonsured her head in full public view to protest against her own party for denying her seat and giving precedence to youngsters.
This was an embarrassing moment for Congress since most of the time women politicians are denied seats but, in this era, denying a seat to women is not at all acceptable since they also work hand in hand with the party. Subhash resigned from Mahila Congress and decided to fight elections as an independent candidate which has put a dent in the Congress party.
The Congress, which leads the United Democratic Front (UDF), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that leads the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), are all betting on winning it big in the small southern state, with their own respective national plans. The elections are on April 6 (Tuesday) for the 140 assembly seats.
Kerala is one state where Rahul Gandhi is miles ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a victory of the UDF could set the scene of the return as Congress president. Rahul Gandhi has been investing considerable time in the southern state.
The BJP, long seen as a north Indian party, has made significant inroads in the state, and is hoping to emerge as a winner through social engineering that includes wooing a section of Christians. A notable performance in Kerala can give a fillip to its southern ambitions.
An incumbent chief minister
Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan, 76, is experimenting with daring political moves to win a second consecutive term, something which is unusual in Kerala. For the CPI (M), it is a battle for survival. If it loses Kerala - the only state in India where it is in power - the Left will be left out of the political-governance map of the country.
It is counting on its performance. In the last five years, there has been development in the areas of education, medical infrastructure, agriculture, etc. What has earned global recognition for the state was the way Health Minister K.K. Shailaja and her team handled the Nipah virus, a bat-borne virus that causes Nipah virus infection in humans and other animals, and a disease with a high mortality rate, and the coronavirus pandemic.
The able handling of these viruses put Kerala on the global map. The only drawback is the so-called gold smuggling case in which M. Sivasankar, former principal secretary to Kerala CM Vijayan, was involved which put the office of the chief minister and the party in an awkward position. As the smuggling happened during the chief minister’s tenure, it puts him under the scanner.
Vijayan in turn is trying to turn this in his favour by claiming to be at the receiving end of machinations of central probe agencies at the behest of the central government.
The CPI (M)’s decision to deny tickets to several of its veterans has not been taken kindly by its cadres, who had taken to the streets and social media to challenge it. The Congress also tried its best to keep the leadership and party squabbles within but everything came out in the open after Subash’s open revolt. The Congress is finding itself in a tight spot.
Meanwhile, in BJP, Sobha Surendran, who is party vice president in Kerala, was initially denied a seat. But after witnessing Subash’s public outrage towards Congress, the BJP couldn’t take a similar risk and fielded her from Kazhakootam, Thiruvananthapuram. Kazhakootam is an important seat for the BJP where the party came second in the last election.
The outcome of the assembly election will be indicative of a new social and political order in Kerala, known as the country's most literate state.
(The writer is a Chennai-based journalist. The views are personal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)