Rahul Gandhi’s candidature in Wayanad has turned the poll plan of BJP and CPM upside down. Both parties had built up their election strategy on the Sabarimala women entry issue. But the Congress president’s arrival on the scene like a bolt from the blue has made the temple issue almost irrelevant. The Gandhi scion has stolen the show and naturally, the focus of debate has been shifted to national issues.
For the BJP, this election is a matter of prestige in Kerala, more precisely for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. It is high time the party opened a Lok Sabha account from the state, which is still an unfriendly terrain to the saffron squad.
The CPM, on the other hand, is fighting the election for its survival. Its national party tag is hanging in balance now. Unless it wins 2 percent of Lok Sabha seats from at least three states or gets 6 percent of the total polled votes from six states, the CPM will lose national party tag.
The largest Left party in the country, the CPM is gasping for survival in West Bengal and Tripura which were once its impenetrable fortresses. The CPM is doubtful whether it can retain its sitting seats — two each — in these states this time. So, the party is desperate to win the maximum number of seats and votes in Kerala, the only state where it is in power now. Accordingly, it planned its poll strategy, declared candidates and kicked off campaign well in advance when BJP and Congress were struggling to zero in on a suitable candidate for each of the 20 constituencies and were trying to contain the ferocious infighting between groups to grab "safe" seats.
It was a smooth ride for the CPM in the first phase of the campaign. But a formidable roadblock appeared in its way in the form of Rahul. Crestfallen, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) mainly the leading partners of the coalition CPM and CPI unleashed attacks against the Congress president questioning the political propriety of him contesting from Wayanad. Several leaders’ tirade against Rahul crossed all decency.
"What message he is trying to give? He claims that Congress’ aim is to defeat the BJP, but it seems in Kerala, the Congress wants to defeat the Left, mainly the CPM," Sitaram Yechuri, CPM general secretary, said addressing a public meeting in Kerala recently.
"The decision (to contest from Wayanad) sends the signal that Congress considers the CPM and the Left as its principal adversary, not the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi," he added. S Ramachandran Pillai, a senior politburo member from Kerala, argues that by contesting from Wayanad, Rahul has proved that there is no match between his words and deeds.
Reactions of Kerala leaders were more pungent and bitter.
"He is trying to become the Opposition leader and not the prime minister of the country," said CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, annoyed at the decision. He was so infuriated by Gandhi's move that he did not remember that by making the statement he was accepting the fact that the BJP will retain the power.
Former chief minister VS Achuthanandan, the most revered CPM leader in the State, referred to Rahul is an "Amul Baby". The worst came from the party mouthpiece, Deshabhimani. It used one of the most derogatory words to personally insult Rahul in a front-paged signed editorial that appeared in the mouthpiece the next day of Congress' official announcement of his candidature in Wayanad.
However, contrary to the expectations of the daily, the editorial was condemned by people cutting across all the political hues. And the daily had to admit the lapse in judgment.
"It is not our culture to personally insult political rivals. But here I admit that it was unfair. We will inquire how it has happened," the daily’s resident editor PM Manoj said in a TV channel discussion.
Despite his confession, the daily did not withdraw the edit, nor did it carry an apology later.
Political observers say that the Rahul-bashing by CPM leaders and the daily exposes the party's frustration over the close fight that has emerged with the arrival of Congress president as a candidate in Kerala. This may upset all its calculations. They cannot see any ideological base for CPM’s criticism over Rahul Gandhi’s contest from Wayanad. The party is venting out its ire to the enemy who is trying to chase it out from its last base and nothing more, they say.
"The maximum the Left should have asked Rahul was the political message he was trying to give by selecting Wayanad as his second seat. They should have stopped there and should not have gone beyond that point. Beyond that question, there is no politics. It is a fact that, in Kerala, the contest is between the CPM-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF.
The Congress has decided to field its president from Wayanad. What is wrong with it? All political parties select the safest seat for their top leaders. The (Kerala) chief minister contested for the Assembly election from the safest seat of CPM. VS Achuthanandan was shifted from Mararikulam in Alappuzha to Malampuzha in Palakkad to ensure his victory. The LDF and CPM could have proved that their anti-Modi stand is sincere by withdrawing their candidate from Wayanad in favour of Rahul Gandhi," said CR Neelakandan, a political commentator and a leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the State.
The arrival of Rahul has given new vigour to the Congress in Kerala and it is palpable in the air. The infighting has come to an end, though for the time being, and the Congress is now working like a well-oiled machine. It has brushed up the relation between Congress and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest partner in the UDF and a decisive political force in north Kerala. Now Congress and IUML are working in tandem as never before.
Sensing the danger, the CPM has changed the strategy and now it's trying to weaken potential rival candidates in select constituencies.
A north Indian television channel aired a sting operation on Kozhikode Congress candidate MK Raghavan, in which he allegedly demands a brokerage of Rs 5 crore for a land deal. Though the channel claims that it was part of its nationwide operation and eight to nine leaders have been trapped, only Raghavan’s case got publicity, thanks to CPM’s effort.
CPM also approached the Election Commission seeking action against Raghavan after other stories highlighting alleged corrupt deals involving him appeared in the media. A report alleges that he has siphoned off over Rs 70 crore collected from members of a cooperative body which he heads. The CPM leaders demanded his withdrawal from the election in the wake of the sting operation "exposure".
Raghavan who won in 2009 and in 2014 from Kozhikode is now seeking re-election. Popular among the people, the Congress leader's chances of re-election have gotten a boost with the arrival of Rahul in the adjacent constituency of Wayanad.
CPM has fielded A Pradeepkumar, sitting MLA of Kozhikode (North) constituency, to win back the seat. So, winning the seat is prestigious for the party. The party knows that if it loses the seat for the third time in a row to Congress, it will be impossible for it to wrest back the seat in near future. Kozhikode was onceone of the safe seats for the Left.
The CPM harps on the sting operation while campaigning in the constituency. The strategy has a twin effect. One, it can create a shadow of doubt in the voters’ mind. Second, the UDF can be confined to the issue preventing them from discussing other subjects.
People also smell a rat with Saritha Nair's decision to campaign against Hibi Eden, a Congress candidate for Ernakulam (Kochi). The prime accused in the sensational solar fraud case, Saritha alleges that she was sexually exploited by senior Congress leaders, including former chief minister Oommen Chandy, promising to help her get big orders for her solar firm during the previous Congress government's tenure.
She had made an abortive attempt to contest against Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad and Hibi Eden in Ernakulam, but her papers were rejected during scrutiny in both the constituencies. She said that though she had complained to Rahul against these Congress leaders, he has not taken any action against them. So, she planned to contest in Wayanad as a mark of protest. She also accused Hibi of sexually assaulting her. She had recently said that she had filed nomination in Ernakulam to expose him. Since her nomination papers have been rejected, now she is planning to campaign against Hibi.
Saritha is said to be playing to the tune of the CPM in the solar case. Twice, she has lodged complaints against the Congress leaders with the police reportedly at the insistence of the CPM. Chief Minsiter Pinarayi Vijayan ordered police action based on the findings of the Solar Commission. The commission reached its conclusions mainly from her statement.
Presently, Hibi is an MLA from Ernakulam. Son of former Ernakulam MP George Eden, Hibi is a young, energetic and street-smart Congress leader in Kochi. He is giving a good fight to CPM candidate P Rajeev, former Rajya Sabha member and current editor of CPM daily Deshabhimani. A blue-eyed boy of Vijayan, Rajeev was handpicked by the Kerala chief minister for hoisting the red flag in Congress fortresses. The Rahul factor, however, has made the fight tougher than the CPM expected earlier in Ernakulam (Kochi) too. It is an unpredictable equals' fights now.
Besides, Saritha’s silence over Adoor Prakash and Benny Behanan has raised questions over her intentions. Prakash, who has also been accused of wrongdoings by Saritha in the past, is contesting against CPM candidate Sampath in Attingal. It is said that Sampath who has represented the constituency in the past two terms is comfortable in the CPM stronghold.
As for the present UDF convener Behanan, Saritha had accused him of telling her what to say in front of the court. Behanan is the Congress candidate in Chalakkudy where CPM’s Innocent, a leading cine artiste, is his nearest rival.
Things are, without any doubt, getting tougher for the CPM as the campaign progresses.
Much to the discomfiture of the CPM, the amicus curiae appointed by the Kerala High Court to look into the reasons that caused last year’s flood, informed the court the other day that human error, mainly failure in dam management, had led to the century’s worst flood in the state that claimed over 400 lives.
Equally embarrassing for the CPM, was a government-run company issuing bonds to the Canadian pension fund which holds major stake in Canadian power giant Lavalin.
The Kerala State Electricity Board Ltd (KSEBL) lost over Rs 300 core in the deal which it had entered with the Canadian firm to overhaul four of its hydel power stations. The deal was inked when Vijayan was the power minister. The trial court has exonerated Pinarayi and five other from the case filed by the CBI without conducting a trial. And though the Kerala High Court has upheld the trial court’s order, the case is still pending before the Supreme Court.
The Opposition alleges that it was an unholy deal and the pension fund has been offered the bond at a higher rate. The allegation is fast gaining momentum. The road is getting bumpy for the CPM.
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Updated Date: Apr 10, 2019 08:59:36 IST