Parties in battle gear for Kerala Assembly polls
Thiruvananthapuram, Mar 28: After overcoming initial hiccups, political parties in Kerala are now in full battle gear for the April-May Assembly polls.
With veteran leader K Karunakaran returning to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and CPI(M) Polit Bureau reversing its decision not to field veteran leader V S Achuthanandan, a neck-and-neck fight is in the offing.
Sandwiched between the two gigantic forces in Kerala politics -- the UDF and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF) -- is the BJP which is hoping to open its account for the first time in the 140-member House.
The seat sharing in the UDF became almost a smooth affair, a marked deviation from the usual practice of suspense, melodrama and verbal duel. This time, it was the LDF that faced with some difficulties in finalising the list.
Till a couple of months ago, the LDF was projected to win the Assembly polls with a comfortable margin considering its impressive show in the Assembly and Parliament byelections and local bodies poll.
A controversy over the SNC Lavalin deal signed during the tenure of CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan as Electricity Minister, infighting within the CPI(M) and the Polit Bureau decision to close its door on the Democratic Indira Congress(K) of Mr Karunakaran changed the equations overnight.
Mr Karunakaran, who deserted the Congress to form the DIC (K) in May last year, found himself left high and dry with the LDF deciding against any seat sharing with him in the coming elections.
He lost no time in warning that the LDF was not going to win the elections after ditching his party.
Capitalising on the atmosphere, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest constituent in the ruling combine, took the initiative to bring the Congress and the DIC(K) to sit across the negotiation table.
After marathon discussions that lasted for several days, a deal was struck between the two parties. As per the understanding, Mr Karunakaran's party would be given 18 seats and in return, the DIC(K) was to merge with the parent party after the elections.
Though a major section in the Congress was against any tie-up with the DIC (K), every one wanted to make full use of the political advantage if it came back to the UDF fold.
The CPI (M), which heads the LDF, is faced with infighting that saw Leader of the Opposition and Polit Buro member V S Achuthanandan first denied a ticket and later, bowing to protests within the party, allowed to contest. As per reports, there was strong opposition within the party state committee against allowing Mr Achuthanandan to contest.
Mr Pinarayi Vijayan, projected as the party's Chief Ministerial candidate till a few months ago, opted out of the contest in the backdrop of the controversy over the SNC Lavalin deal that resulted in wasteful expenditure of crores of rupees.
With the dust settling down over the issues of Mr Karunakaran and Mr Achuthanandan, parties are now turning to real political issues for the final battle.
While the UDF would be projecting the development agenda for retaining power, the LDF would be going all out to highlight the alleged corruption in government.
It is almost certain that the UDF would take full advantage of the reports that a section of the CPI(M) leaders in the party central committee, in order to deny ticket to Mr Achuthanandan, had strongly advocated that he had an image of anti-development and anti-minorities.
As an Opposition Leader, Mr Achuthanandan was in the forefront in all the popular agitation led by the CPI(M) and the LDF during the past five years. But a section of reformists in the party strongly believed that Mr Achuthanandan's over enthusiasm in certain issues had adversely affected the party's vote bank among the middle class.
Whether it was the Rs 1,500 crore Smart City project being proposed by the Dubai Internet City or the protection of historic Halcyon Castle which was sold out to a private hotel group as part of the Centre's disinvestment policy, Mr Achuthanandan's bold stand had forced the government to take several corrective measures.
With hardly a month left for the beginning of the three-phase elections on April 22, 29 and May three, it was projected to be the battle between the equals. Unlike the previous elections when the UDF came to power with 100 out of 140 seats, the margin between the two this time was projected to be very narrow.
Though Mr Karunakaran is back in the UDF, his rivalry with Mr Oommen Chandy is well known. His party, which promised to merge with the Congress after the polls, is contesting on its own poll symbol and it is difficult to predict what his stand be in the event of his party emerging as a crucial player in the post poll scenario.
The BJP is fielding its star campaigner and former Union Minister O Rajagopal in a desperate move to record its first ever victory in the Kerala Assembly polls. Mr Rajagopal has the distinction of having secured the maximum number of votes by a BJP candidate when he contested the last Parliament elections from Thiruvananthapuram.
The stand of the RSS would be a crucial factor in deciding the fate of BJP candidates in the state.