Kerala triangle: On Kerala Assembly elections

The election results will be indicative of a new social compact that is taking shape in the State

The coming Assembly election in Kerala could mark a realignment of the State’s political landscape. The Congress, which leads the United Democratic Front (UDF), the CPI (M) that leads the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the BJP that leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), are all betting on an outsize impact the small southern State may have on their respective national plans. Kerala is one State where Rahul Gandhi is miles ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in popularity and a victory of the UDF could set the scene for his return as Congress president. Mr. Gandhi has been investing considerable time in the State. The BJP, long seen as a north Indian party, has made significant inroads in the State, and is hoping to emerge as the third pole through social engineering that includes wooing a section of Christians. A notable performance in Kerala can give a fillip to its southern ambitions and buttress its claim of being a national party. The incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is experimenting with daring political moves to win a second consecutive term, unusual in Kerala. His moves could be highly rewarding politically, but could unsettle the implicit power-sharing arrangement among Kerala’s elites.

Though they are playing for high stakes in Kerala, all three parties are in turmoil within and in tussles with allies. The CPI (M)’s decision to deny ticket to several of its veterans has not been taken kindly by its cadres, who have taken to the streets and social media to challenge it. The party wooed Kerala Congress (Mani) from the UDF into the LDF, in an embarrassing somersault that it finds difficult to explain. Charges of corruption and nepotism, including a multiagency investigation into the links between the former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and a smuggling racket have taken the shine off the governance record of the LDF government. Mr. Vijayan, however, is trying to turn this in his favour, by claiming to be at the receiving end of machinations by Central probe agencies at the behest of the BJP. The Congress is trying to keep the leadership squabbles within by not formally announcing a leader, but signalling that former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy could get another term should the party win. It is also struggling hard to hold on to traditional bases. The BJP in Kerala had never imagined itself as a serious contender for power, and the opportunity in sight has intensified internal factional rivalries. The campaign and outcome of the Assembly election will be indicative of a new social compact that is taking shape in Kerala, and in that sense, it is not merely about electing a new government this time.

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