As the Kerala Assembly celebrates its Diamond Jubilee, the state might seem settled in its stable and predictable bipolarity. Alternating almost automatically between the LDF and the UDF every five years, Kerala’s politics today reveals little of the tumult of its earlier years. But, as a look back at the state’s history reveals, Kerala walked a long, hard road to this settled pattern.
The Kerala Chronicles looks at some of the fascinating ups and downs, triumphs and tumults of Kerala politics, since the state’s birth in 1956 to the current day.
In the 60-year history of the Kerala Assembly, there is no other single legislator’s vote that has ever counted as much as those exercised by former Speaker AC Jose in 1982. Jose’s casting vote, exercised eight times, was the only thing that kept the K Karunakaran government in power for nearly three months.
It all began with the fall of the EK Nayanar government in 1981. When Nayanar formed the government following the 1980 elections, it was with the help of former PM Indira Gandhi’s supporter-turned-foe AK Antony. The Nayanar government’s majority depended on the support of 21 members of the Congress (U), led by Antony, as well as eight members of the Mani faction of the Kerala Congress.
Both of these factions had trouble with the CPI (M) style of rule, and withdrew their support, leading to Nayanar’s resignation on October 20, 1981. Following two months of uncertainty, an eight-member ministry was formed on December 28, 1981, with Karunakaran at the helm.
But Karunakaran couldn’t build a comfortable majority either, as the Congress (U) as well as the Janata Party split amidst a highly polarised atmosphere.
With these shifts, the Assembly was divided exactly down the middle, with the ruling front of the Congress and the CPI (M)-led Opposition both having 70 MLAs each. The only vote that could shift the balance was Speaker Jose’s.
And Jose, a loyal member of the Antony faction, was called upon to exercise his crucial vote on the very first day of the new government.
Determined to crack the wafer-thin majority of the ruling Congress, the Opposition found its opportunity in the Motion of Thanks to the Governor’s Address. The Opposition proposed seven amendments, and it was only thanks to Jose’s vote that the Motion of Thanks was successfully passed. After this followed a No-Confidence Motion that the Karunakaran government defeated thanks to Jose again.
Jose’s vote became so crucial to the survival of the Government that they began to be derisively called the ‘Casting Speaker’ and the ‘Casting Government’ by the national media.
The Opposition even attempted to remove Jose from the equation by moving a Resolution on March 5, 1982 calling for the removal of the Speaker. “He, by exercising the casting vote in favour of a Government which does not enjoy the confidence of the house has acted on a partisan way," the Resolution stated. However, this move too could not muster the requisite majority under Article 179(c).
The deadlock finally came to an end when Lonappan Nambadan, a founder-member of the Kerala Congress – then allied with the ruling United Democratic Front – voted against the government.
On March 17, 1982, the Karunakaran government resigned and the Assembly was dissolved. The state came under President’s rule, forcing an interim election.
Read our Tamil Nadu political history series, the Dravidian Chronicles.