Ahead of assembly polls, Congress faces an existential crisis in Kerala

The party’s ‘Aishwarya Kerala Yatra’ not withstanding, the ruling LDF is poised to achieve the unthinkable

Ramesh Chennithala - The Federal
UDF Chairman, Ramesh Chennithala called the UDF manifesto the Bible, Quran and the Gita, which was drafted after detailed consultations with experts and stakeholders

The ruling Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) victory in the local body elections in Kerala last December left political observers wondering if the LDF could achieve the unthinkable: retain power in a state that never gives a second chance to the incumbent. Historically power in Kerala has alternated between the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). This year, however, the indicators point towards an LDF victory.

Perhaps sensing trouble, state Congress chief and leader of the opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, recently organised the ‘Aishwarya Kerala Yatra’ to marshal his party’s cadre and widen its base. The yatra concluded at Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday (February 24), with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressing a large crowd.

The Congress also roped in film stars such as Dharmajan Bolgatty and Ramesh Pisharody to disseminate the message that it is still a force to be reckoned with in Kerala, despite losing power at the Centre and in several states.

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The yatra was a success — to a certain extent. It attracted large crowds in several places, but political experts remained sceptical about the party’s chances in the assembly election.

“The crowds may not translate into votes. Such yatras are usually part of a party’s rejuvenation process,” said P Rajan, a veteran columnist and Congress loyalist.

“It is now or never for the Congress. It will not survive as a party if it remains out of power for more than five years,” said Rajan. “If the LDF is voted back to power, which in all probability it will be, the [BJP-led] NDA will get stronger in the state.

“The Congress needs to recreate the conditions that existed before and during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, when it achieved a massive victory, but that seems difficult,” he said.

According to political commentators, the LDF government has done quite well, in the eyes of the electorate, which is all that matters.

“This has been one of the most popular governments in recent times. I don’t think the opposition will be able to make a breakthrough,” said Dr J Prabash, retired professor of politics, Kerala University. The anti-incumbency factor seems to be negligible, which makes the fight tough for the Congress, he said.

Chennithala may have been the leader of the opposition for the past five years, but former chief minister Oommen Chandy remains the leader of the masses. That is obvious given the high command’s decision to entrust Chandy with leading the party’s campaign.

“Ramesh Chennithala does not have a mass base; Oommen Chandy does. The Congress’ allies are also more comfortable with Chandy’s leadership,” Rajan said.

A recent survey, which predicted a landslide win for the LDF, showed a high approval rating for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The survey was conducted by C-Fore, a multi-disciplinary research organisation, in partnership with a TV news channel.

Thirty-nine per cent of the respondents said Vijayan was most suited to the CM’s post. Eighteen per cent threw in their lot with Chandy. Most damningly, Chennithala’s rating — 6 per cent — was on a par with that of BJP state president K Surendran.

Overall, the pollsters predicted an LDF win with 72 to 78 seats. They gave 59 to 65 seats to the UDF and between three and seven seats for the BJP.

Puducherry Crisis

The political developments in Puducherry are also expected to have an impact in Kerala. Last Monday, the V Narayanasamy government in the Union Territory, the only Congress government in the south, lost power following a spate of resignations of party MLAs. Before tendering his resignation, Narayanasamy blamed the BJP for the fall of his government.

Mahe, one of the constituencies of Puducherry, lies in Kerala; it is represented by Dr V Ramachandran, an Independent who has the CPI-M’s support.

Ramachandran told The Federal that the Congress had betrayed the people’s trust. “This will have an impact in Kerala too. How can people cast their vote for the Congress? Why should someone who does not want the BJP to come to power vote for the Congress? The Congress is easily purchasable,” said Dr Ramachandran, a retired professor.

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