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