Buoyed by the court's verdict against the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau's clean chit given to state finance minister KM Mani in the bar bribery case on Thursday, the LDF in Kerala is going all out to capitalize on the UDF's double fault at this crucial juncture in Kerala's local body elections. With just a couple of days left for the high-octane, two-phased civic body elections in Kerala, poll fever has literally gripped this politically-volatile state.
With the high-pitched campaigning –a never before scenario for local body polls in the state’s political history- entering its final phase, a rejuvenated Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) are locked in a neck-and-neck fight. The state is witnessing a trilateral fight in many three-tier panchayats and other local bodies, with the BJP too staking its claim for a substantial portion of the political pie at stake.
Considered as a precursor to the Assembly polls of 2016, the present panchayat elections are critical for both the ruling and opposition fronts. The BJP factor will be crucial as the saffron party has entered into a regional level alliance with the Sree Narayanana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, a powerful organisation of the Ezhava community in the state, an obvious move to cash in on caste-combinations. Though SNDP general secretary Vellappally Natesan wanted to cobble together a massive Hindu Front -after meeting Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Delhi- by bringing all community organizations into the fold, the move didn’t yield the desired result with the Nair Service Society (NSS) staying away.
The CPI(M)-led Left front has not won any major electoral battle in Kerala -the only remaining Left bastion in the country- since 2006. However, led by veteran comrade and opposition leader V S Acuthanandan, who turned 92 last week, the Left seems to be pulling ahead in the campaign trail. The nonagenarian leader, CPI(M)’s biggest crowd puller of recent times, has unleashed scathing attacks on SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan who has been seen cozying up to the BJP to float a third front in Kerala. The Congress and BJP also have not been spared either.
The Ezhava community has always been the biggest vote-bank for the Left front. Sensing the threat from a possible BJP-SNDP alliance, the CPM has been making it a point to expose the hidden motives behind the alliance. Achuthanandan who is on a gruelling multi-district campaign tour for the civic body polls, minces no words while targeting Natesan. In fact, the CPM veteran has already raised serious corruption charges against the micro-finance scheme run by the SNDP, likening Natesan to Shylock.
Though the Left has raised corruption charges and price rise issues against the Oommen Chandy-led UDF government in the state, their focus this time is on the prevailing communal issues at the national level – the Dadri Beef murder, alleged moves towards communal polarization, the Congress going soft on RSS in Kerala etc. CPI(M) politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan accused the RSS of indulging in ethnic cleansing of the minorities just like Hitler’s extermination of the Jews. He categorically reiterated that a renaissance organization like SNDP cannot be viewed through the parochial prism of just the rich and the powerful.
The dire consequences of a dismal electoral performance seem to have made the Left present a united front. Seat-sharing and candidate selection among its coalition partners were a smooth affair. And in a novel move, the poll manifestos were brought out incorporating proposals from the general public, collected through suggestion boxes set up at different points.
What with Achuthanandan, state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and other politburo members Pinarayi Vijayan, S Ramachandran Pillai and M A Baby leading the campaign, it’s Advantage CPM so far, ably supported by the Kanam Rajendran-led CPI, in a bid to regain its lost glory. As per its internal assessment, the Left front is of the view that of the six city corporations, they could retain three – Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Kozhikode –and could make substantial inroads in Thrissur and Kochi corporations also. The Left candidates have already won a number of municipal wards in Kannur, where they were elected unopposed. Though rumours of the Left front softening its stance against the UDF constituent Muslim League are doing the rounds, Pinarayi Vijayan categorically clarified that the Left has no such agenda in mind.