Rough Road Ahead

Win­ning back re­cently es­tranged vot­ers will be tough for Chief Min­is­ter Pi­narayi Vi­jayan’s CPI(M)

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

With elec­tions to six assem­bly con­stituen­cies due in the next six months and to lo­cal self-govern­ment bod­ies in 2020, the stakes are high for Ker­ala chief min­is­ter Pi­narayi Vi­jayan and the CPI(M). The Left Demo­cratic Front (LDF) coali­tion his party heads won only one of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the re­cent gen­eral elec­tion. This is wor­ry­ing for the CPI(M) as the govern­ment has only two years to go be­fore its term lapses. The LDF had come to power in 2016 with 91 seats in the 140-mem­ber assem­bly and a 43.5 per cent vote share.

Six assem­bly con­stituen­cies go to the polls as four MLAs have been elected to the Lok Sabha, and the Man­jeswaram and Pala seats have fallen va­cant due to the death of two UDF leg­is­la­tors. The mini by­polls will be the first ma­jor po­lit­i­cal test Pi­narayi faces af­ter his party’s Lok Sabha de­ba­cle.

Given the re­cent drub­bing, the polls to lo­cal self-govern­ment bod­ies, due next year, will be crit­i­cal to the CPI(M)’s abil­ity to main­tain its hold on power. The party cur­rently heads a ma­jor­ity of the lo­cal bod­ies in the state and made a bit of a come­back in the by­polls last week, win­ning 22 of 44 seats.

There is a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion among par­ty­men that their stand on Sabari­mala, favour­ing the en­try of women of all ages into the shrine, back­fired elec­torally. Not just a vote drain, it has also alien­ated a sec­tion of

CPI(M) fol­low­ers. “We are work­ing to win them back,” says CPI(M) polit­buro mem­ber M.A. Baby. “Our pri­or­ity is not to win polls but to work with the peo­ple. We win elec­tions when our mass base re­mains with us.”

Baby knows it is a chal­leng­ing task and time is short. He is pin­ning his hopes on the party net­work across Ker­ala and the govern­ment’s wel­fare mea­sures to win back vot­ers. Not ev­ery­one in the CPI(M) shares Baby’s op­ti­mism. The party has lost vot­ers de­spite the devel­op­ment prom­ises of the govern­ment. “The Hindu vote bank drain is un­usual for us,” a se­nior party leader says. “Not just the Nairs, even the Ezhavas aban­doned us in the Lok Sabha elec­tion. With mi­nor­ity con­sol­i­da­tion in favour of the Congress in the state, the party will need ma­jor surgery to win them back. Or we’ll be faced with the same cri­sis that the Ben­gal unit is deal­ing with.”

“We failed to ed­u­cate our cadre and gauge the as­pi­ra­tions of new-gen­er­a­tion vot­ers. The cadre at least knows about our his­tor­i­cal strug­gles and the party’s con­tri­bu­tion in re­form­ing Ker­ala,” analy­ses an­other CPI(M) leader. Pi­narayi un­der­stands the bind he is in. It’s not easy be­ing a chief min­is­ter in the time of an un­friendly Union govern­ment. He also has to rein in his ma­raud­ing cadre and end in­fight­ing in the district party units in the north. The lat­est news of cus­to­dial deaths have not done his govern­ment any favours ei­ther. And then there is the task of re­build­ing flood-rav­aged Ker­ala be­fore the elec­tion in 2021.

MOUNT­ING ODDS CM Pi­narayi Vi­jayan

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