Those who care can stay
The narrow majority obtained by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala spells more problems for the victor than the vanquished.
The choice of the chief minister may not be difficult, but trouble will start with the selection of the deputy chief minister. The Muslim League, being the second largest party in UDF, will assume that that post is naturally theirs.
Will this go down well with the Mani Congress? Then there is the issue of the allocation of portfolios to ministers, and chairmanships of corporations and committees to members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
After the election of the Speaker, the majority of the ruling front will be reduced to three from four. This means that a potential conspiracy of even three MLAs can rock or overturn the boat.
The Opposition, consisting of veterans well-versed in parliamentary tricks, will be looking out for such a prospect. They are a well-organised lot, comparatively more disciplined, and are masters of propaganda. They will adopt any tactic — from Gandhian satyagraha to Naxalite violence — and justify it in terms of Leninist theory. They may even join hands with extremists and terrorists in the name of human or minority rights.
If anyone thinks that the voting reflects a pro-Congress trend, they are mistaken. This is an anti-Communist Party of India-Marxist negative vote. It is true that the people of Kerala would prefer to give the Congress a chance in view of the party’s democratic commitment and tradition, but the incorrigibly servile mentality in the party, and insensitivity of the regional leadership, created reservations in the minds of the people of Kerala.
Critics have rightly raised the question how the pro-Congress wave, clearly visible in Parliament and local elections, changed so dramatically in the last few months. The answer is simple. There was no qualitative improvement in governance at the Centre, or in the policies of the government.
The real key is the Endosulfan battle. Television channels mercilessly beamed this story, with photographs of the spider children of Kanjangad. The world saw those moving images, including the Congress leaders of Kerala and at the Centre. But they turned their faces away. The misery of hundreds of innocents in Kerala did not mean anything to them.
Only some Left leaders listened to the cry of the helpless victims. In spite of the constraints imposed by the official party leadership, chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan voiced the grievances of the people — he did not act, only voiced his concern — and became the hero of all Keralites in their agony. Section of the people in the state began to question whether Congress leaders in Kerala had any loyalty to the people of the state, especially since the Delhi leadership stood firmly by the drug manufacturers.
Bofors, Quattrochi, Union Carbide, Swiss bank accounts, Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja, K. Kanimozhi, and now this... The rising pro-Congress wave subsided, and caution took the place of the earlier enthusiasm.
Kerala’s Congress leaders will not acknowledge this link, but unless they get ready to introspect, their lot will not improve. The misfortune is that there is no leader like Mamata Banerjee to stand up for the people of Kerala.
In the eyes of the people, the Congress as well as the Communists have failed. Both sides retain their loyal or traditional support, but the politically uncommitted sections of the public, whose votes are decisive, are increasingly sceptical of the Congress’ promise of change. They will be watching every step of the new government.
A new generation with new aspirations has entered the political arena. The new government will have a tough time. The entire country will be waiting anxiously to see if the Congress in Kerala will be able to open a new chapter in its history, and whether the Marxists will transform themselves into a democratic and responsible Opposition.
Prof M.G.S. Narayanan is an author and historian. A former chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, he is one of Kerala’s prominent social critics.