Much is at stake for the Left and the Congress in Kerala, and for regional parties in T.N.
The States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, along with the Union Territory of Puducherry, are going to the polls today after an extremely competitive campaign. Voting in all 234 Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu and 140 in Kerala is taking place in a single phase. In T.N. and Kerala, the DMK and the Congress respectively, can ill-afford to lose another election. The AIADMK government in T.N. is seeking a third straight mandate while the CPI(M)-led LDF government in Kerala is seeking a second consecutive term. After being out of power for 10 years, the DMK hopes to be back in the saddle in T.N. Meanwhile, there is a search for new alignments in both States. The fragmentation of Dravidian politics, following the passing of Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK and M. Karunanidhi of the DMK, has opened up possibilities. Actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan and film-maker and Tamil nationalist Seeman also fancy their chances as they jostle for space in the changed scenario. Though the BJP is far from gaining a foothold in either State, its looming influence is evident in the resonance of religious appeals in the public sphere. In Kerala, the BJP and the Congress promised to keep the Sabarimala shrine out of bounds for women of menstruating age citing tradition while the LDF quietened its stance fearing a Hindu backlash. A constituent of the LDF said ‘love jihad’ was a matter of concern; in T.N., the DMK sought to give itself a makeover as a party not antithetical to customs and traditions.
In the rivalry between the Dravidian camps in T.N., the Congress used to be the swing power. Whether it retains that role is to be seen. With Rahul Gandhi’s personal fortunes too at stake, the ripples of its performance in Kerala will be felt for the Congress across the country. The campaigns in T.N. and Kerala were thankfully not centred around communalism, but misogynistic statements by representatives of progressive parties were unfortunate. Parties and the people must put a cost on leaders who make offensive statements. All parties in both States appeared to support welfarism through various modes, but less attention was paid to discussing economic and development issues. Unless the focus is on growth, the incoming governments in both T.N. and Kerala may find the present welfarism unsustainable. The role of the central agencies during the campaign was controversial for several reasons. True, it is their duty to investigate illegal activities, but if they do so in a manner that seemingly helps the ruling party at the Centre and constrains its political opponents during the campaign, the election gets vitiated. The Election Commission of India must take note of this increasing unhealthy trend, and do what is essential to ensure a level-playing field in elections.