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For an opposition party, the Congress is in a strange situation in Kerala: the party is more on the defensive than on the attack. After five years in power, the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has effectively revived memories of corruption scams and sex scandals of the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front. A former Minister of the UDF, R. Balakrishna Pillai of the Kerala Congress (B), is in jail after being sentenced by the Supreme Court to a year's rigorous imprisonment in the Idamalayar hydel project corruption case. Mr. Pillai was felled by a sustained political campaign and legal battle waged by CPI(M) leader and Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan — who is now using the success in court to great advantage in the electoral arena. Another former Minister of the UDF, P.K. Kunhalikutty, the general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League, is facing fresh allegations in the ice cream parlour sex scandal. Moreover, the Congress is having a tough time fending off charges of corruption directed at the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. Thus what looked like a one-horse race in October 2010, when the UDF decisively won the local body polls at every tier, is now developing into a keen contest.
However, the LDF faces the challenge of fighting off the anti-incumbency factor and voter fatigue. After 1977, when the Congress was voted back to power, Kerala voters have never given a combine two consecutive terms in office. There is still a substantial gap for the LDF to bridge, and to do this Mr. Achuthanandan and the CPI(M) will need to sustain the newly gained momentum till the very end. The UDF is trying to position itself as pro-development, a euphemism for pro-industry, in an attempt to take up the space provided by the pro-labour policies of the LDF government. But the Cabinet approval for the agreement on the revival of the much-delayed SmartCity Project in Kochi in February this year might blunt criticism on this score. Another concern for the CPI(M) is the factionalism involving State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and the Chief Minister; the LDF will be hoping the bad blood at the top will not seep down to the cadre level. Mr. Achuthanandan was given the ticket only at the intervention of the party's Polit Bureau. Whether he can work up a groundswell of support, as he did in 2006 when he was similarly nominated after being denied the ticket, remains to be seen. What is likely is that after two one-sided contests in 2001 (when the UDF won 99 of the 140 seats) and 2006 (when the LDF took 99) in a State where ideology and policies matter, 2011 will witness a close finish.
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