2016: The year of dichotomies for Kerala Politics

Is BJP going to change gears? Kerala is waiting.
2016: The year of dichotomies for Kerala Politics
2016: The year of dichotomies for Kerala Politics
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By Jose Joseph Kochuparambil

Kerala’s political landscape has witnessed many firsts - the first elected Communist ministry of 1957, the first usage of Article 356 in 1959 and coalition mode of electoral politics since the 1960s, to name a few. The BJP’s lack of relevance in state politics is also a peculiar trend that Kerala has displayed, which goes against the national trend.

With the changing scenario in the national and state political arena, the year 2016 is expected to bring about some serious transformation in Kerala. And these changes are expected to affect all major players in the race in almost equal measure.

This article attempts to illustrate the emerging dichotomies in this regard.

·        Change of power in Congress?

Internal factions, or as per Congress lingo – ‘groups’, have existed in the Congress party for long. The Kerala segment of Indian National Congress was largely grouped under two stalwarts – late K. Karunakaran and A.K. Antony for more than three decades since the ‘70s, as ‘I group’ and ‘A group’ respectively.

While the ‘I group’ controlled the party till the mid-90s, the dynamics of power changed after the ouster of Karunakaran from the chief minister’s post in 1994, and Antony assuming power. Since then, the ‘A group’ has progressively captured the organizational hierarchy of the party and its subsidiary organizations. Recent elections to the Youth Congress state unit and Kerala Students Union were dominated by the group. And this forced its fractured opposition in the party to come together and call themselves ‘broader I group’.

But the year 2016 could see yet another change of fortunes in the intra-party power struggle. After more than two decades of dominance, ‘A group’ leader Oommen Chandy could face a concerted and serious challenge due to multiple reasons – the point of communal balancing being the most prominent one. While Ramesh Chennithala, leading the ‘broader I group’ could be the primary challenger, recent developments present V M Sudheeran also as a formidable opponent in the fray.

Unlike the left front, Congress has always faced an assembly election with a chief ministerial candidate. So who is that going to be? 

·        New models of Marxism?

Marxist leaders in popular perception are hardliners. Their adamancy to stick to the ideological stipulations is often interpreted as non-progressive and orthodox. 

V.S. Achuthanandan who was a party leader for many decades, would fit this description pretty well. But his transformation to popular politics that happened in the early 2000s made him one of the most popular political leaders of recent times. But his struggles within CPI(M) that went on for almost a decade were still based on ideological obduracy. He could portray his stand as pure Marxism and brand his adversaries as neo-liberals, with a fair amount of success outside the party, even when being increasingly sidelined within. 

And now in 2016, it is almost sure that the mantle of electoral leadership will move on to Pinarayi Vijayan, Achuthanandan’s bête noire in party politics. The recently concluded party forums have tried to present new thoughts and ideas, and a few of them could be interpreted as being at variance with CPI(M)’s earlier position. 

Kerala is keenly waiting to see if CPI(M), the most powerful political party in the state in terms of organizational setup and member base, can present a a revamped model of Marxism to convince the electorate for a change of government. 

·        Hard or soft saffron line?

Kerala’s tendency to oppose hardline communal politics has always put BJP and its allies in a spot. While aggressive rhetoric has often paid dividends across the country, it has not done the saffron brigade’s electoral chances in Kerala any good. 

But a section of Kerala’s electorate has identified BJP as a possible winning bet this time round. While the party is yet to open its account in the Kerala Assembly, its performance in the last few elections including the local body elections of 2015, has created hope and optimism. Recent developments in Kerala’s social sector, SNDP’s outreach to the Sangh Parivar and the ‘Modi factor’ could work in BJP’s favour. 

But the primary question still remains – where is the state BJP going to place itself in the scale of political aggression? When ‘beef’ was a hot topic of debate across the country, BJP’s Kerala unit took a mild stand. When Ghulam Ali was opposed in Maharashtra, office bearers of the state BJP came out in the open and welcomed him to Kerala. 

Elevation of Kummanam Rajasekharan, an outsider, as the BJP’s state president was observed as a step to move to a far more aggressive brand of Hindutva politics. His credentials and track record as a cadre and incumbent president of Kerala Vishwa Hindu Parishad pointed in that direction. But his performance so far has been in line with the existing position. 

Is BJP going to change gears? Kerala is waiting. 

·        To be or not to be?

Coalition politics of the last four decades has led to the formation of smaller players in politics, many of them being run as privately owned enterprises with nothing new to offer in terms of ideology or practice. 

It would be curious to see if Congress and CPI(M) would decide to support all these players by including them in their respective fronts. And it is no secret that at least a few of them will not survive long without such political affiliations.

Smaller factions of Kerala Congress, CMP, JSS, NCP – who all will survive in 2016?

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