For Pinarayi, winning is important - but winning more than 80 seats is crucial

The prominence given to an ally like the KC(M) is feared to backfire for the CPI(M), if the party does not win a crucial number of seats on its own.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan standing and speaking at an Assembly election rally holding a mike against the background of a red flag
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan standing and speaking at an Assembly election rally holding a mike against the background of a red flag
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During the seat-sharing talks for the 2021 Kerala Assembly elections, the ruling Communist Marxist Party of India (Marxist) faced a rare protest in public from its party workers in Kerala’s Kuttiyadi constituency in Kozhikode district. The protest emerged following CPI(M)’s decision to allot the seat to its ally in the Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Kerala Congress (Mani). Kuttiyadi has been a Left citadel for decades until the CPI(M) lost it to the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in the 2016 Assembly elections. And so, the party workers wanted a CPI(M) member from there than a new entrant in the coalition, the KC (M). The CPI(M), which leads the LDF, finally budged and gave the ticket to KP Kunhammad Kutty.

Several pre-poll surveys by the prominent news channels in Kerala have predicted a continuum of power for the LDF government, led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. However, many political experts have assessed that the prominence of the new ally, KC(M), which is reportedly not known for its political ethics, will land the CPI (M) in trouble if the LDF wins less than 80 seats in the 2021 elections. The LDF won 91 seats in the 140 Kerala Legislative Assembly in the 2016 election, with CPI(M) winning 58 seats. Ahead of the 2021 election, the party said that the front was confident of winning 80 to 85 seats.

In the 2021 election, Kerala Congress (M) Jose K Mani group, contested in 12 seats. They joined the LDF after severing ties with its former long-time ally, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The coalition with KC(M) worked for LDF in the 2020 local body election.

The LDF won the Pala municipality for the first time ever in the local body elections by winning 17 seats in Kottayam’s Pala, which was a UDF bastion. KC(M) party patriarch, late KM Mani had been winning from the constituency from 1969 till his death in 2019. With the 2020 local body poll victory, KC(M) became the third-largest constituent party within the LDF, after CPI (M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI).

Amid the prominence given to an ally like the KC(M) within the LDF, a few political experts fear it may backfire for the CPI(M) if the party does not win a crucial number of seats on its own. 

Why experts think it may backfire

“Not all members within the CPI (M) are happy that the KC(M) is getting this prominence,” noted J Prabhash, an academic and political analyst. 

When KC(M) joined LDF, its present chief Jose K Mani only wanted the Pala seat to contest in the Assembly elections. However, discontent brewed within the coalition. It was in the 2019 bye-elections following KM Mani’s death that UDF’s winning spree was broken, by LDF candidate Mani C Kappen. So, when discussions began to allot his sitting Assembly seat of Pala to Jose K Mani, a former rival, Mani C Kappen was miffed. He eventually left LDF and joined the UDF, starting his own party.

"If LDF wins less than 80 seats, there would be uncertainty about the longevity of the government. If the political allies in the LDF, like the KC(M), have a critical number of seats, the CPI(M) may be forced to succumb to the bargaining of such parties. If KC(M) won five to six seats, the LDF government will be at the mercy of the party. What will be the stability of that government, that we will have to wait and see," Prabhash added.

The sensational 2014 bar bribery scam is one of the controversies that created ripples in state politics. Then Finance Minister and late KC(M) chief KM Mani allegedly received hefty bribes from the bar owners to reopen the closed bars in the state. The scam tainted the image of the Oommen Chandy-headed UDF government (2001-2016). KM Mani was keen to join the LDF when his rapport with Congress strained after the bar bribery scam. The KC(M) left the UDF in August 2016, but rejoined in June 2018.

“If allies like KC(M) won a crucial number of seats, it is likely that they would get involved in more corruptions and that would also be a threat to the government. If that happens, it may have repercussions within the CPI(M). For a stable government, CPI(M) should win an ample number of seats to not be at the mercy of its allies in the LDF," Prabhash said, adding that the BJP may even try to derail the government if such a scenario were to transpire.

Veteran journalist and political critic Jacob George, however, holds a different view. “Jose K Mani is comfortable in the LDF,” he said. KC(M) is a party that was born and deeply rooted in the Kottayam district, which has been its citadel for decades.

"Irrespective of the differences, ousting KC(M) from UDF is a political blunder. Pinarayi Vijayan, on the other hand, did his homework well and welcomed the party, foreseeing its gain in the elections. The KC(M) seats are where the Left is not strong. That said, Congress also has almost the same strength as the KC(M) in those seats. Besides, Pinarayi Vijayan, over the last five years, has made inroads into the Church. Hence, Jose K Mani's Left bonding is backed by the Bishops too," noted Jacob George. 

He also pointed out another scenario, where wooing KC(M) back to the UDF fold if the latter lost the Assembly election. If that happens, the voices of Ramesh Chennithala and Mullappally Ramachandran (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President) would become weak. "Then there would be a demand for new leadership in the Congress, and taking back KC(M) would become a long-term agenda for the Congress then, although that will take time," Jacob George said.

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