The stage is set for assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry over the next few weeks. Unlike elections to the Jharkhand and Bihar Assemblies, where the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was a key player and emerged victorious, the Opposition alliance except in Assam and West Bengal is weak.
However, the highlight of the upcoming round of elections would be the hypocrisy and the brazen double standards of the Congress and the Communists who would be baying for each other'sblood in Kerala and West Bengal even as they are in alliance at the Centre.
Having extended their support to the most retrograde party at the Centre, the comrades are caught on the horns of a dilemma, never faced after the great spilt of the 60s. With Buddhadeb Bhattacharya outsmarting capitalists in his liberalised avatar and Messrs Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and Co. giving a bull run to P. Chidambaram and his anti-poor, anti-farmer, anti-common man policies, whom do they attack for the ills of their respective states? And if they do not attack, how do they survive in their last two sanctuaries? Like the extinct Dodos, it'sa battle for survival for the endangered political species called the Reds.
And this double standard, which is confusing the electorates came to the fore in the LDF manifesto in Kerala, which promised among other things, a Digital City and a six lane speed road.
The ordinary Keralite is too literate to forget that only three years back, the CPM had lashed out against the proposal for an Express Highway on environmental grounds. They also remember how the Reds had protested the Rs 1500 crore deal with the Dubai Internet City to set up the Smart City in Kochi.
?We are not against the Smart City but only some of the provisions of the agreement?Our opponents? development centers on a minority of population but ours is a comprehensive one targeting all sections,? are some of the specious and sheepish arguments of LDF Convener Paloli Mohammedkutty, which no sensible Malayalee would buy.
A man is known by the company he keeps, so is a party by the ally it has. The ?highly disciplined cadre-based? Marxists stood exposed as the entire nation watched with dismay the level to which their leaders 83-year old V.S. (Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan) and CPM State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and their supporters could stoop by engaging in a free for all, including posters, hatemails, e-mails, sms, unprecedented in the country'spolitical history, in their battle for supremacy.
Even though the Central leadership intervened and brought about an uneasy truce, the Congressisation of the Marxists was complete. Though VS has been retained in Malampuzha, majority of the candidates declared by the party are Vijayan loyalists.
In the Congress camp too, there is little to cheer. Old war horse K. Karunakaran, his son, daughter and the Democratic Indira Congress?Karunakaran (the acronym could shock Americans) has shamelessly swallowed their pride and walked back for a meagre 18 seats after a nine-month long secret love affair with the Marxists, during which he dealt a body blow to his parent party in the Lok Sabha elections.
However, Congress men are already seeing the spectre of factionalism, internal feud and blackmailing that the veteran can contribute to their defeat over and above the strong anti-incumbency wave, corruption charges against Ministers, farmers? suicides and growing unemployment.
A ray of hope, though apparently distant, for the people of Kerala lies in the BJP, which is making a serious bid for its maiden entry into the state Assembly.
The party, which enjoys the support of the nationalist organisations in the state, has announced 128 candidates for the 140 seats at stake. Among its prominent candidates are former Union Minister O. Rajagopal and BJYM state President K. Surendran. The party has given the highest tickets to women (11) besides fielding 10 Scheduled Caste candidates and five persons belonging to minority communities including two Muslims and three Christians.
Buoyed by the formation of its first Government (in alliance with H.D. Kumaraswamy) in Karnataka, the party is expecting not only to make its maiden entry but also substantially increase its vote percentage, according to senior party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu.
Though Poll Observer K.J. Rao has hung his boots, the Election Commission officials are on their toes and the outbursts and statements of the Left parties against the poll panel and the CEC B.B. Tandon'sstrong words are all indicative of the waning confidence of the Marxists in their last bastion, West Bengal.
The 28-year old Left Front Government is facing anti-incumbency as never before. The CPM State Committee, which met earlier this month to discuss the ground realities, found that the party'sprospects were bleak in Murshidabad, Malda, South Dinajpur and Nadia. This despite the Congress and the Trinamool failing to hammer out an alliance.
In a candid admission, State Industries Minister and CPM Central Committee Member, Nirupam Sen said, ?Though the Opposition is in a disarray, it will be too much to expect that we will sweep the polls?.
Even as Buddha is hardselling Brand Bengal with emphasis on shopping malls, express ways and flyovers, the party'spre-dominantly rural voters are getting alienated. The recent controversy over the Salim group projects and the Government'sdecision to hand over agricultural land to industries has sharpened the divide.
The party is also rattled by the recent victory of Trinamool Congress candidate Mukul Roy in the Rajya Sabha elections. Roy secured three votes from Ruling Left Front partners, which Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee said was an ?indication for change in the coming assembly elections?.
The increasing Naxalite menace in Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura too is giving sleepless nights to the Marxists, so is the death of CPM State Secretary Anil Biswas.
Trinamool Congress is contesting 252 of the 294 seats in the Assembly leaving 42 to its ?Gana Front? partners, including 32 to BJP.
In neighbouring Assam, the Congress is back to its dirty old game of playing up minority fears. With the Supreme Court striking down as ?illegal and unconstitutional? the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act 1983, the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre has sought to bring it back through the back door by amending the Foreigners? Order 1964.
The IMDT Act has affected the voting pattern in the state over the years with the Congress swearing by it and the AGP-BJP opposing it. The Act was considered an armour for illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh while the indigenous communities viewed it as a hurdle to deporting them.
?At least 10,000 people have lost their lives in violence in the last five years, poll promises of the Congress were not fulfilled, there is corruption everywhere and there is total breakdown of law and order,? says Brindaban Goswami, who now heads the AGP.
However, what is worrying the main contenders in state politics is the emergence of BJP, which has not only weaned away the divided AGP'sindigenous voters with its vehement opposition to the IMDT Act but also made deep inroads into the tea garden community, so far a Congress bastion. The party has already declared 120 candidates for the 126 seats at stake.
The BJP is also giving a spirited fight in Dravidian country Tamil Nadu having decided to contest the elections on its own. The party, which has decided to contest all the seats on its own has formed a four member committee including former Union Minister S. Thiruvanak-karasar and Pon Radhakrishnan to hold talks with about 50 smaller parties and groups keen to extend support to it.
The battle lines in the state are drawn between the two Dravidian rivals?DMK and the AIADMK. ?If the DMK does not win this election, it will never be able to raise its head for another 100 years,? a desperate M. Karunanidhi tells his party workers.
With several pre-poll surveys predicting a second term for Amma Jayalalithaa, the DMK Chief is apparently unnerved despite his formidable alliance that consists of Congress, PMK, the two Left parties and a few minor parties.
Politics makes strange bedfellows and the whole nation watched amused as MDMK Chief Vaiko, who was incarcerated by Amma for his alleged sympathies for the LTTE, joined hands with her after Karunanidhi asked him to take 21 seats or leave. He chose the 28 seats offered by Jayalalithaa.
With Amma banking on her sops to state Government employees, her u-turn on pro-Hindu policies and her freebies like bicycles and the DMK cashing in on the liberal doles of its Central Ministers and promises of providing free colour TVs to every household, it remains to be seen which way the state'svoter goes. A similar situation prevails in the neighbouring Union Territory of Pondicherry.
The people in all the five states want change. They have had enough of politicians exploiting them by raising the bogeys of communalism and Brahminism. They want to join the national mainstream chanting the mantra of development. It is time the nationalist forces close their ranks and work unitedly to fulfill their dreams and aspirations and dump the obsolete Leftists and the obnoxious pseudo-secularists in the dustbin of history.