The Political Landscape of Kerala: Battle for 2019

The Political Landscape of Kerala: Battle for 2019

Politics in Kerala

                  Kerala is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich states of southern India. But beneath this lovely landscape is the hotbed of political strife which exists in the state for decades. One can trace the roots of this conflict much longer before independence. The pitch towards social change and democracy started in Kerala at the end of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Kerala had a political landscape of communist ideologues who organized mass movements against the British empire and Travancore state. Leaders like E.M.S Namboodiripad, A. K. Gopalan, T.M Vergheese were popular communist leaders in Kerala, who fought against the British rule.

               After independence, Kochi and Travancore, part of the Union of India, was merged to form Travancore-Cochin. In November 1956, these boundaries of newly united-states, including the Malayalam speaking regions, and other territories were named as Kerala. In the first elections, the Communists had gained a majority and were in total control. Kerala is also a classic example of Communists being elected by democratic means in the whole world. Kerala has also had ‘The Presidents rule’ many times in the state, and parties like the INC (Indian National Congress), Indian Union Muslim League and CPI(M) (Communist Party of India (Marxist)) have formed many alliances and groups over the years.

             One can also trace the split in CPI (Communist Party of India) which later became CPI (M), in the backdrop of the Soviet-Chinese split, and later moving towards a revisionist perspective of class associations in Kerala. Over the years, Kerala’s political space became dominated by two powerful coalition fronts- The LDF (Left Democratic Front) and the UDF (United Democratic Front). The LDF comprised of a coalition of left-wing parties in Kerala (From E.M.S Namboodiripad to Pinarayi Vijayan). The UDF, on the other hand, was an alliance of parties created by prominent leaders of INC (Indian National Congress); K. Karunakaran of Thiruvananthapuram in the seventies, as a powerful bloc against the LDF.

            However, both parties are different in their nature, ideology and outlook. The communists had actually tried bringing equality in Kerala by overthrowing feudal society, and later the UDF had brought out a different developmental agenda. Today, many people in Kerala feel that both the UDF and LDF have done their bit with positives and misses in policy matters and actions, despite having a different ideological orientation towards social life and development.

The present situation in Kerala

              The political quagmire which exists in Kerala today is a result of various approaches to development and social justice. The communists have a strong view leaning towards socialism and the BJP has its firm stance on the market economy. Some believe that the ideal way for development in Kerala is welfare measures based upon the principles of socialism while many others opine that the market economy is the way forward to create jobs. There is this evident paradox among many people who want either of the two and even some who would prefer a combination of both. Kerala has always been a state leaning towards the left. The state consistently tops on HDI (Human Development Index), despite the GDP per capita being low. It also tops for life expectancy, literacy rates and other indices of development. The most impressive point of Kerala is the aspect of poverty rates being low compared to other states in India. Many believe that the issue of unemployment among youth needs to be dealt through different strategies, a move away from the neo-liberal perspective of development.

             What the BJP has to keep in mind is that even in general elections, the average literate Keralite votes on the basis of various development parameters giving more prominence to local, civic and social issues of the state. Modi’s Gujarat-model of development is in stark contrast to Kerala’s view of social life. The renowned Belgian born development economist Jean Drèze has also done extensive research comparing these two states – Gujarat and Kerala and has written prolifically on developmental issues. Despite contrasting views in various media platforms, the grassroots always tell a different story.

            Kerala does have a very unique political model in contrast to other states of India. The state has done well on many developmental parameters but there is also a dark side to the existing conflicts which is prevalent. The issue of communal violence, targeting of Dalits and minorities, the violence between cadres of various parties, the rise in alcohol consumption and drug use, increasing crimes like murders are some burning issues among many others, which is in stark contrast to an ideal state that Keralites want. What Kerala needs is a sustainable economic model and this largely depends upon a strong political leadership. Coalition politics has its pitfalls, and there needs to be a broad consensus on different issues among political parties, between the Centre and state.

The Road to 2019

             The road to 2019 for the BJP in Kerala is going to be a mixed one in matters of public opinion. The beef ban, Sabarimala issue, demonetization and many other setbacks have had an impact on public opinion in Kerala. In 2014, the UDF led by the Congress won 12 seats, the Left Front won 8 seats and the BJP did really bad. Despite efforts from the senior BJP leadership in 2014, the party could not do well in Kerala. The surprising fact is that the BJP had finally formed the government at the Centre. One has to keep in mind that in the 543 Lok Sabha seats, there are only 20 seats from Kerala, which gives the percentage calculation a small fraction compared to other states (in terms of seats), that the BJP has in mind for 2019.

            The Hindi heartland states and other states in southern India also have to be kept in mind, while strategizing for general elections. Even if the BJP makes a mark, it would be a great victory for them as there are many taking a stand against the present government. With the BJP cadres having strength in the grassroots one has to wait and watch what changes will actually materialize? Public opinion and voter behaviour is an extremely complex phenomenon in India and even more so in the state of Kerala. One can only hope to anticipate the mood for 2019, as anything is possible in our democracy!

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