The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2016 Assembly elections in Kerala due to cracks in its solid Muslim and Christian votebanks. The UDF was hoping to reverse the phenomenon of power alternating between the state's two dominant fronts, but the trend continued another term.
The alliance attributed this dismal show to the intensive campaign spearheaded by the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the minority belts, telling the electorate that they alone can check the surge of the saffron brigade in the state. The Congress has been trying to prove false the LDF's claim that they are the sole savior of the minorities, seeking to dispel fears in their minds regarding the Hindtuva agenda of the Sangh Parivar.
Party workers, who were demoralised by the poll debacle, are now disillusioned with their state leadership's failure to seize the opportunity, even after CPM stepped up the ante against the BJP-RSS combine, in the wake of the 'Janaraksha Yatra' taken out by the latter to muster support ahead of Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
The CPM has planned a massive nationwide offensive to counter the BJP-RSS propaganda that Kerala is a land of red and jihadi terror. Congress workers fear that protests planned by CPM in all state capitals from 9 October may help the party draw more Muslim and Christian voters into its fold.
BJP has coined the term 'Red-Jihadi terror' for its Janaraksha Yatra as part of its strategy to woo Hindus. The "soft Hindutva" approach it adopted in Kerala helped the party increase its voteshare from 6.3 percent in 2011 to 14.8 percent in 2016. A bulk of these votes came at the UDF's expense.
The saffron party doesn't expect Hindus supporting the communists to shift their political affiliation easily since they are wedded strongly to the Marxist ideology. They are accordingly targeting Hindus supporting the UDF instead. The UDF already lost a substantial Hindu support base after a political party floated by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam forged an alliance with BJP.
The saffron party is also trying to woo leaders of all hues in a bid to cobble together a credible alternative before the Lok Sabha polls. Names of senior Congress leaders like former MP K Sudhakaran, sitting MP Shashi Tharoor, and ex-MLA Prayar Gopalakrishnan are being taken in BJP circles.
Political analyst Sunnykutty Abraham said that the BJP's strategy is to emerge as the main Opposition in Kerala. He told Firstpost that this may not be an impossible task, considering the Congress has neither an effective leadership nor a definite policy in the state. "The CPM and the BJP-RSS combine are equally responsible for political violence in the state. BJP's 'Janaraksha Yatra' and CPM's counter campaigns are both aimed at reaping political mileage. They have the same common agenda: Of weakening the Congress," Abraham said.
He said the Congress leadership has failed to realise this threat, and has failed to capitalise on a political opportuinity. "It could have used the political space provided by the Janraksha Yatra to expose the murderous politics pursued by the BJP and the CPM. This would have lifted the sagging spirits of party workers, and won them the support of the people. But the current leadership is bereft of ideas," he said.
"The Congress did not take the BJP seriously, thinking that BJP would eat into LDF's votes. But local body polls in October 2015 and Assembly elections in April 2016 have proved this wrong. Despite these electoral setbacks, however, the party hasn't learnt any lessons," he said.
Abraham said that if the party leadership continued with its present silence, disillusioned workers may desert it, helping BJP achieve its objective of Congress-mukt Kerala. He added that it would ultimately benefit CPM the most, since even BJP wouldn't be able to emerge as a formidable opposition in the state.
Kollam District Congress Committee (DCC) president M Liju said that the party was aware of BJP and CPM coming up with a masterplan designed to weaken the Congress. He told Firstpost that both parties wanted to keep the hostility alive, as they draw their strength from fear and insecurity among the people.
He accused the CPM of misguiding the minorities and reaping electoral benefits. There is no sincerity in the anti-RSS stance adopted by the CPM, he said; on the contrary, the CPM is actually hand-in-glove with the BJP.
"The lunch hosted by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to newly appointed Union minister from Kerala Alphons Kannathanam and his praise of Narendra Modi's approach towards the state are clear indications of the secret understanding between the two parties," he alleged.
He added that the Congress would expose this before the people. He also said a 'Kerala Yatra' will be taken out by Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram from 1 November, and this double-speak of the RSS and CPM will be its main theme.
Liju denied the allegation that the Congress was soft towards the Sangh Parivar, saying the party doesn't want to add to a culture of violence being pursued by the CPM and the BJP. He also claimed the party is running a campaign against political violence, and creating awareness among the people in this regard. After the ongoing reorganisation, the party will sharpen its offensive, he added.
However, party workers don't seem too enthused by the exercise, terming it as a ritual to facilitate the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as the all-India Congress president.
Abraham said ordinary Congress workers were expecting a new generation leadership to guide the party through the current crisis. However, the leadership has dashed their hopes by trying to share party positions along factional lines.
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy, who has relinquished positions in the party following the Assembly election, has been demanding organisational elections from the booth level to revitalise the Congress. However, the party has sought the usual nomination route.
Former KPCC president K Muralidharan said that senior leaders were trying to accommodate their favourites in key positions in the party. If it fails to bring forth able leaders, it would sound the death knell of the Congress, he warned.
Updated Date: Oct 07, 2017 08:41 AM