Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Unbecoming of exit polls for Kerala

Dr D Dhanuraj

As always, the discussion on the exit poll results has caught the attention of every Malayalee this time also. The majority of the exit polls predict that LDF will form government in Kerala with a notable exception of one NewsNation forecasting a hung assembly. The exit polls have generated unprecedented discussion in Kerala society for a few reasons. This time, the elections in Kerala did not show any trend favouring any front and it was fiercely contested one, even agreed upon by the fronts. The voters in Kerala was enamoured by the presence of a strong BJP – BDJS alliance:- NDA and it is said to boost the election spirits this time around.  Unlike in the earlier polls, this time the campaign was devoid of any governance agenda and rather it thrived more or less on the personality vs corruption charges levelled against them from all the sides. Even though it is the turn of the left parties to form the government as per the usual trend in Kerala, the resurgence of UDF towards the last phase of the polls made the election scene very competitive. With the strong pitch by the PM led campaign for BJP-BDJS, the election this time has reached a nerve cracking finish. With this general mood in the atmosphere, some of the forecasts published by pollsters raised healthy debates on the poll outcomes scheduled for tomorrow.

CPI(M) led LDF started as favourites early this year much ahead of the election announcement. At the start of the campaign, they had issues with the selection of the candidates as it didn’t go well for a cadre based disciplined party structure of left parties. But they were able to regain the momentum with public reports of  disagreements among the top leaders of Congress party on the selection of candidates that become more damaging in the public eyes.  There has been spirited harmony between the comrades, V S Achuthananthan and Pinarayai Viajayan. Thanks to that, VS led the attack on CM Oommen Chandy. UDF has been on the backfoot for many weeks and they were not able to roll out the campaign plans as they had intended. At the same time, LDF campaigns on radio and visual media were not rated high as compared to those by UDF and NDA. Some political analysts also commented on how NDA were effectively using its outreach campaign to push themselves as a third front. LDF had moved ahead slowly even though at places they lacked the energetic party machinery to sustain the campaign mood for many weeks. NDA tried their best to capture the attention of the voters with high voltage campaign involving the central ministers and RSS machinery wherever possible. It has been the trend of the elections till the last phase of the campaign.

Strategists on each front tried to woo the minority voters by courting the community leaders and religious institutions. With the increased presence of BDJS and their fervent campaign at many places shocked the established players. It led to the uncertainty in the voting behaviour and no one has been able to theorise who would be the winners and losers in the game yet. At least on the campaign front, everyone accepts that BDJS candidates have performed better than what many had expected in the beginning.

Even though the corruption has been the headline in Kerala for the last two years, the opposition has failed to push the anti-corruption agenda into its core campaign framework or at least it is not the perception general public has. Of course, Keralites always responded to the corruption charges through the ballot and this time also, one could expect the same reaction. Even then, one could not rule out UDF’s resurgence leading to a closer fight with LDF. With the Modi campaign, the minority consolidation favoured UDF and its alliance partners. Quick response by Oommen Chandy in response to PM’s comparison with Somalia with LDF confused with whom to attack at the beginning on the whole issue. Raking the Malayalee pride, Oommen Chandy ensured that the fight is between BJP and UDF. It was an attempt by the wily politician to consolidate minority votes by restating and conveying the message all the time that the fight is between BJP and UDF. With the very emotional Sonia Gandhi on the scene, he could consolidate Congress vote bank linking the whole congress idea of being Nehru – Gandhi acolyte.

All these developments during the last phase helped UDF considerably. Those naysayers will still argue that the decision for whom to vote is taken by an average Malayalee not at the time of campaign but long ago. Still, I believe with NDA and 2 % swing, the results could be very close with a slight edge for LDF. The exit polls indicate and provide us with what an average voter in Kerala might have thought about the governance and corruption in the last few years. Even then, it leaves some space for all the stake holders to worry about the outcome.

Conspiracy theory: With the exit polls forecasts a thumping win for LDF and reduced BJP/NDA vote bank, it could be an attempt by BJP to decimate Congress at the cost of left parties in Kerala. Congress is abigger threat to BJP compared to a few MPs sent by left parties from Kerala. Rest, I leave it to you to guess what would have happened….

 *The author is the Chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi. Views expressed by the author is personal.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Anxiety over the Impending Kerala Verdict

By Prof KC Abraham*

There is a deep sense of concern in the secular, progressive and democratic mind of Kerala about the result of the May 16th Assembly election. The anxiety oscillates between optimism and pessimism; pessimism about the end of era of secular social living and the continuation of the political group in government, infamous for its notorious political culture. It is an anxiety about the possible emergence of communal political force as a decisive force. Optimism hinges on the end of a shameless innings of plunder, corruption and deception, over the years. This optimism resides on the possible coming of a responsible, corruption-free, transparent governance with a perspective agenda of development for Kerala’s march ahead as a unique society with an exceptional dynamism and functioning as an exemplary model for other states.

Lessons of Electoral Experience

The election experience of Kerala since 1957 has been the success of the either of the secular welfare oriented political outfits, led by the congress and communists. Most of the elections were fought over competitive welfareism. The unique feature of Kerala’s politics has been that it was not controlled or influenced decisively by communal or caste forces, till the end of 1990’s. Also corruption was not deep-rooted and rampant as in other parts of the country, at the political level, till the same period.

Communalism and Corruption to the fore

Last 20 years witnessed the vitiating influence of communalism and corruption in the political life of Kerala. The two maladies which were dormant or at a very low scale, came into active form and stay as inevitable factors of “developmental politics”.

There was the influence of the communal and caste organizations in Kerala politics, especially in the electoral politics since the first election in 1957. The first elected government of EMS was sabotaged by the combined and concerted agitation by all the communal organizations sphereheaded by the Muslim and Christian leadership. Since, then the ‘Minorities’ acted as ‘aggressive pressure groups’ to extract leverages from the government. The Minority Politics was effectively exploited by the UDF for electoral gains, while the LDF went out of their declared principle to appease them. Even today, major chunk of the Muslims and Christians stand as a forte behind the UDF. It is demonstrated by the number of MLAs, who by and large hail from Christian and Muslim majority areas.

The privileges enjoyed by the minorities in the education sector is too evident; This situation is also sanctioned by the special constitutional protection for minorities. However, this does not mean that the majority community represented organizationally by the SNDP and NSS, are excluded; they also have substantial number of institutions in the education and health sectors and enjoy the ‘Reservation’ privilege in government jobs. While the advantage of educational institutions under the minority communities percolated to every section both horizontally and vertically in the minority communities, it remained largely in the creamy zone of the majority communities. Hence the large section within the Hindu community remain aggrieved and disadvantaged.

2016 – Assembly Election:- Corruption to the background and Communalism to the foreground

In recent times communalism has crept into the minds of people as a ‘sanctified – inevitable’ factor in political life. And the apathy and untouchability towards corruption is dimming.

The RSS, the extreme fringe of the ‘Hindu’ group, that was lying low for a long time in Kerala politics got emboldened by this situation and began to come to the foreground. Since the beginning of the 2000’s, Kerala witnessed the vitiating of it’s political life by this communal forces overtly. The RSS, that was proxy playing through it’s political arm of BJP, took over it’s direct role, after the Hindutva force came to power in many states and finally at the centre in 2014. The so called Minorities too began to display political role more virulently. Till, 2011, the RSS, unable to make an entry into the Kerala Assembly was freely marketing it’s ‘vote’ wealth. The simmering discontent among certain sections of the Hindu community fuelled by the aggressive avariciousness of the Minorities, coming of the BJP to power, all combined together, enabled the Hindu Communal Forces to play ‘ Open Communal Politics’. The RSS, came to the direct command of the BJP, after the substantial electoral gain made by the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP central leadership, with it’s shrewd  game, succeed in roping in the SNDP leadership into it’s fold. It is rather the convenient flirting together of ambitious interests. This is a deceitful act of the SNDP leadership to cover up their commission and omission in spreading the benefits received from every government, to weaker segment of the Ezhava Community. Rival extremists communal fringe groups have emerged from the Muslim community, camouflaged in progressive titles.

Now what will be the aftermath of 2016 assembly election. This has to be viewed in the light of the emergence of the communal political forces, the critical test for the UDF and decisive reckoning of the Left. For the BJP, it never nurture a hope of a victory with a major number but any number is a major victory. A defeat awaits terrible fall outs for the UDF, especially for the chief minister and his coterie. The present dispensation known for its shrewdness and ruthlessness for political survival and at ease with covert acts, may enter into some clandestine understanding with the BJP eventually resulting in mutual benefit. It will be a deal of inevitabilities, i.e Inevitable survival for the UDF, especially the CM and inevitable legislative presence for the BJP. For the Left, further another loss in election will impact on their credibility and relevance. Hence they try to arouse an apprehension about Hindu communal threat among minorities.

Tragically, the poison of communal hatred is infused into the blood of Kerala’s body politic. It will be perineal threat to the secular social fabric of Kerala. If the incumbent is re-elected it would be a democratic certification of blatant corruption and deceitful governance. A Malayali, proud of his political ethos, will not let down secularism, honest politics and accountability on May 16th.

 *The author is the Academic Director of Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi; views expressed by him are personal and does not reflect or anyways represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Perverted communal politics of Kerala

By Dr D Dhanuraj

Another election is around the corner in Kerala and the attempts to appease the voters from every quarter is at its peak. Kerala is known for coalition governments for decades, and it has been one of the mainstays of politicking in the Gods Own Country for all those who want to have a share in the government. The coalition governments across the world are subjected to criticism for its lackadaisical approaches and appeasement of the minority partners in the coalition to survive in the corridors of the power. Detractors hold the accountability of the system in Kerala for the very same reasons.
The entry of another front called NDA in addition to LDF and UDF reaffirmed the conformities with the coalition practices in Kerala. No wonder a national party like BJP tried their best to enter Kerala by abetting the formation of a new party (BDJS) and partnering with them to open their account in the hitherto unconquered frontier. Naturally, the situation has opened up a scenario wherein the results are difficult to predict as of now. Most of the political observers are estimating the shift in the loyalty of a particular caste or community from their erstwhile mentors to the new political combinations. It is not all about BJPs arrival in the state elections that has driven to such an analysis. It has always been the case with the electioneering in Kerala with two significant political groups in Indian Union Muslim League and Kerala Congress (accept the fact that they represent many fringe groups under and within). Every election witnessed the crossing over of these groups from one side to another with the blessings of the community and spiritual leaders and less for the political reasons. From the early days onwards, most of the parties tried to play the communal politics not to mention the formation of Malappuram district. Over the years, there are many instances where the parties choose the candidates based on the community which gives them better chances of winnability even in the adverse conditions.
The debate on whether BJP’s entry to Kerala politics has communalised the secular fabric of the state shall be looked into in this context. There are numerous examples of the perverted behaviour by the political parties in the communal lines. In the context of India, the representation or lack of representation of the communities in the power corridors and avenues of excellence sprout the common thoughts that gets politicised later on. In a democratic country like India, where exists the first past the post scenario the power equations that satisfies the communities and religious group help to retain the vote bank for the political parties. Interestingly, with the coalition politics in practice in Kerala, it helped to form pressure groups and interest group within the political arithmetic of Kerala. Minority politics is very much prevalent in Kerala, and they are represented by different political parties. Most of them have enjoyed their share in the government with the key portfolios in their reach. With the state being a paternal one, the state resources have been dubiously shared by the parties in power to keep the petulant nature of the communal forces at bay. Many of them bargained for their share of the pie. With the emergence of the proactive communal appeasement by the partners in the coalition, the lead parties in both the fronts had to compete to take one step ahead of the other one for not losing to their partners in retaining their vote banks. It essentially resulted in the spread of communalised politics in a very mercurial and hidden manner in Kerala.
The social market of Kerala largely revolves around the service sectors and religious institutions. The share and rights of the communities to avail and establish the opportunities in social welfare sectors like health, education, religious institutions (all of them constitute the social capital) propels everyone in the society to upwardly mobile. This has been very easy as the state has enjoyed the power for arbitrage in many of the sectors as they are designed in a way to help them in such situations. It is exactly what the political parties are trying to leverage upon to retain and propel their votes. They announce the schemes and issue licenses for the communities at the benefit of the votes represented through the different parties. The scenario thrives for the reason that there are political parties which represent particular communities and sects. It is not too late to forget the fifth slot that IUML claimed in the UDF ministry.
Already undertoned communal politics provides ample opportunities for those parties which would take up thematic issues like the environment, Dalits, women security and safety, development, reforms, etc. The present election campaign, in fact, vets the emerging scenario. Secular thoughts would remain in the perverted communal fabric as in the past in the same way undercurrents of communal politics would remain as it is. The only saviour and champion will be those who stand for the thematic issue

 *The author is the Chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi. Views expressed by the author is personal.