Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Parliament appears to be a lifesaver for the Congress in Kerala, but the moot question is: will the state leadership be able to make the most of it?
When the 2019 Lok Sabha election was declared, the political situation in Kerala was quite even, with the Congress-led United Democratic Front having a slight edge over the Left Democratic Front led by the CPI(M), thanks to the Sabarimala fiasco after the Supreme Court verdict of November 2018.
But with the arrival of Rahul Gandhi into the fray from Wayanad, everything changed. Even before voting, it was assumed that the Rahul factor would favour the Congress and its allies across Kerala. But no one could have predicted Rahul’s effect on the UDF’s sweeping victory.
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The Rahul factor not only just helped all the UDF candidates except one to win but with huge margins, particularly in the Malabar region. From Kasaragod to the far south, it swayed the results in almost every constituency.
The consolidation of minority votes did the trick for the UDF in 2019, coupled with the larger Hindu backlash against the CPI(M)-led LDF government after the women’s entry to the Sabarimala shrine. The political situation changed after the CAA /NRC protest and the Left parties were quick to pounce on the opportunity and win back the support of minorities.
The victory in the local body election of 2020 and the Assembly elections of 2021 was a clear indication of the Left parties getting the support of minorities, especially Muslims, despite a string of controversies, including a gold smuggling case against them.
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By losing the Assembly elections for two consecutive terms and being an Opposition with comparatively fewer numbers on the floor, the UDF was struggling to get its feet right — until recently when the Kerala government went on the backfoot following a string of allegations against it.
The Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) follow-up actions in the gold smuggling case and the Brahmapuram landfill fire, where the government is accused of laxity and alleged graft, have left the Pinarayi Vijayan government in a spot. The Opposition was intensifying the fight in the Assembly, forcing the government to guillotine an ongoing session.
Rahul’s disqualification comes just as the UDF prepared to step up the ante with a series of protests against the Kerala government. Typically, the UDF ought to be hitting the streets with massive protests and grabbing the political opportunity presented to them.
If early indication is anything to go by, Congress will do just that.
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“Democracy is in danger in India. So, all parties must forget their differences. First things first, we must protect our democracy and our Constitution. So, all Opposition parties must unite and we must fight against this mischievous move by the Centre. This is my appeal,” Congress veteran and former chief minister A K Antony told the media.
On the other hand, CPI (M) leaders, right from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, were quick to react, describing the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as the latest episode in the ongoing assault on democracy by the Sangh Parivar brood.
“A prominent leader of the Opposition has been attacked like this. Then, what will be the fate of common people who express their voices freely? What respect do they have for our constitutional values?” asked Vijayan. Several Left leaders, including TM Thomas Issac, M Swaraj, P Rajeev and, M B Rajesh, came up in protest against the BJP on the issue of disqualification of the Congress leader.
On the other hand, V D Satheesan’s social media posts which did not name BJP or Sangh Parivar leadership directly has attracted criticism even among his party colleagues.
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“Truth, honesty and goodness will prevail. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress will continue to fight the dark forces. We believe in constitution and judiciary.” tweeted Satheesan.
Truth, honesty and goodness will prevail. #RahulGandhi and #Congress will continue to fight the dark forces. We believe in constitution and judiciary. pic.twitter.com/wyNSXe44tK
— V D Satheesan (@vdsatheesan) March 23, 2023
Said one Congress leader who did not wish to be named: “CPI(M) knows how to appropriate and utilise such a situation to its advantage. What we need is to intensify the protests and wrest the leadership of the anti-BJP movement. That’s where we lag behind the CPI(M).”
However, some Opposition leaders, including MPs, are yet to realise the gravity of the situation. This was demonstrated in the Opposition protest march in New Delhi on March 24. According to local newspapers, despite Sonia Gandhi giving clear instructions to MPs to court-arrest after the march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, some MPs did a vanishing act. This was when all the available LDF MPs from the state actively participated in the protest and courted arrest.
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According to Malayala Manorama, M K Raghavan, K Sreekaantan, T N Pratapan, Dean Kuriakose, Hibi Eaden and Adoor Prakash did not court arrest. A M Arif, T Sivadasan, A A Rahim and K. Santnoshkumar from the Left parties were active throughout the protest.
“Many of them did not turn up for the protest which was planned at 12.30 pm as they had already booked their flight back to Kerala. Some others slipped out after the march when the police came to arrest us,” CPI(M) MP A A Rahim told The Federal. “I am not commenting on it because it is their party to address the issue, but I am not surprised,” said the first-time MP.
Rahim added: “This should be an eye-opener for the Congress. They have been playing it safe for long. When Manish Sisodia got arrested, they hailed it. The irony is that when we were taken to the police station in a van, we could see posters put up by the Congress across Delhi hailing the government for arresting Sisodia. Not only that, when Mohammed Faizal of NCP, the MP from Lakshadweep, was disqualified and not allowed to enter Parliament despite having his conviction stayed, the Congress did not utter a word.”
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“As far as we – Left parties – are concerned, this is our political stance. Our democracy is in danger, and we will stand in solidarity with whoever is affected, be it Rahul or Faizal,” he added.
Adding insult to injury for the Congress, Anil K. Antony, who had been expelled as the coordinator of the social media and digital communication cell of the AICC, took the opportunity to attack the party. “The plight of the Indian National Congress from 2014, and especially post 2017, is a sad case study. The party ideally should stop focussing on the gaffes of an individual and work on the issues of the country. Else it won’t exist beyond 2024,” he tweeted.
However, the Kerala Youth Congress has begun to demonstrate in public, holding protest marches throughout the state. A march towards Raj Bhavan carried out in the night even resulted in a clash with the police, injuring several of its workers.
“It is clear that this regime is being run by the RSS, Sangh Parivar and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi for Adani,” said state Youth Congress president Shafi Parambil. “If reaching a middle ground with the Sangh Parivar is called maturity, Rahul Gandhi is never going to show that maturity.”
Meanwhile, discussions have also veered towards a situation if there is a possible by-poll in Wayanad.
KPCC president K Sudhakaran said the Congress expected the LDF not to field a candidate in Wayanad as the political situation has changed.
Responding to the remark, CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan said, “We will organise protests, batting for the rights of Rahul Gandhi, but if a by-poll happens, unlikely though, we will field a candidate of our own.”
Now with the opportunity to organise mass protests presented to the Congress, it is up to its state leadership to take the right decision that could help the party revive itself in Kerala.
It’s make-or-break for Congress in Kerala now.