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Kerala - Thiruvananthapuram Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Welfare initiatives fail to bring votes for ruling front

C. Gouridasan Nair

Communal consolidation, vengeful former allies, poor strategies do LDF in

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: One of the oft-heard arguments of Left Democratic Front (LDF) campaign managers over the last one month was that the ruling alliance would romp home in the local body elections in Kerala as almost every second home had benefited from one or the other welfare scheme of the State government. It might be a little tricky to say so, but the poll outcome does not seem to suggest that.

Going by current trends, the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) is very likely to end up with roughly two-thirds of all local bodies in the State when the counting concludes in Kozhikode on Sunday.

The UDF has already bagged 544 grama panchayats, 89 block panchayats, 39 municipalities, eight district panchayats and two municipal corporations. The trend would very likely be the same when the votes polled in the 75 or so grama panchayats and other local and civic bodies in Kozhikode district too are counted. The UDF could not have scored so emphatic a victory if the LDF campaign managers were right, which means that welfare pay outs and benefits did not create a politically educated category but only an easily swayed, largely consumerist, mass.

Communal votes

The LDF leadership is, however, right on one point: that there was a massive consolidation of communal votes across the State. If it was a consolidation of Christian votes in the former Central Travancore, in the north and in many pockets across Kerala, it was consolidation of Muslim votes. With Communist Party of India (Marxist) rebels and former allies hitting back at the alliance with a vengeance, the LDF's cup of woes just overflowed. It was, in many ways, a backlash that the LDF did not deserve as a government, but could not avoid as a political formation. And, in that sense, it is tough to see the outcome as a verdict on the performance of the LDF government.

The reason why and how the Christian consolidation came about is complex, but the way the CPI(M) strategy of taking on the Church contributed to it is there for everyone to see. The whole debate over mixing religion and politics, an old theme used to its full potential by none other than E.M.S. Namboodiripad, obviously did not win it any new friends. Coming as it did on the heels of the incidents at CMS College, Kottayam, it also further alienated the Church of South India (CSI), though not acutely in the coastal belt of south Kerala.

Only the Latin Catholic community appears to have taken a relatively neutral position in the whole debate. In the case of the Muslim community too, the CPI(M) appears to have failed to look closely at the nuances of the developments within the community and its organisational representations, the beneficiary being the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In the event, the debate did not remain what it should have been and the LDF paid a heavy price for it as it did not have the means or ability to reach out to the other side of the political divide with cogent arguments.

However, though figures to prove anything are yet to come by, the Kudumbasree initiative appears to have done some good for the LDF, particularly in grama panchayats. But, even here, there could be some surprise in store. Preliminary indications are that the Congress also might have benefited from the participation of Kudumbasree activists in the elections. Only the final figures would tell the whole story. Equally interesting would be the way women have, if at all, performed in general wards. All the relevant figures could be pointers to the way women's politics evolves in the new political situation at the grassroots and the UDF's responsibility is much greater here than it ever was.

At a purely organisational level, the CPI(M) and other LDF constituents would also have to see how their inability to put up a joint fight in many places contributed to their collective failure; Kottayam, where the CPI(M) and CPI were openly at each other's throat, being an example. And, within the CPI(M), though factionalism as a pan-Kerala, centrally driven, phenomenon has been snuffed out to a very large extent, much appears to have come unhinged at the time of the elections on account of various local factors. All this just means that the LDF collectively and its constituents individually have their tasks cut out.

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