Intro: Is it the frailty of the Left parties in Kerala, making the reasons of UDF's fiscal misconduct and the LDF's physical unlawful activities?
For four days in February moving from Malayalam news channels to those in English and Hindi felt like moving from one universe to another. The former provided saturation coverage of the supposed crisis in the Communist Party of India—Marxist(CPI-M) following VS Achuthanandan's dramatic exit from the party’s State conference in Alappuzha; apparently nothing else was happening elsewhere. But if the English and Hindi channels devoted any time at all discussing factionalism in the Marxist camp, I must have missed it. The same channels spoke, respectfully, of Speaker G Karthikeyan's passing on March 7, much less respectfully of the nexus revealed by the 'Hummer Murder Case', and, with absolutely zero respect, of everything that happened in the Assembly on March13. It is not Kerala that is being ignored by the national media, but the Marxists. And there is reason to that.
In 2004, the CPI(M) won 43 seats in the General Election, forming a formidable 60-strong block of votes in the Lok Sabha with its Left Front allies. In 2009 the CPI(M)'s Lok Sabha tally fell to 16, and that of the Left Front as a whole to 24. In 2011, the electoral cycle brought the United Democratic Front(UDF) back to power in Kerala, and at the same time brought an end to thirty-four years of Left Front rule in West Bengal.
In 2014, the CPI(M) fell to just nine seats (five from Kerala). The CPI was wiped out in West Bengal, and has been reduced to a single Lok Sabha MP. Harsh though it may sound in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, from the perspective of Delhi and Mumbai, and even, let us be honest, of Kolkata, the Left in general and the CPI(M) in particular are in decline, and there is little point in devoting newsprint or airtime on them. In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 71 seats in Uttar Pradesh, 23 in Maharashtra, 27 in Madhya Pradesh, and 22 in Bihar. Its allies — the Apna Dal(AD) in Uttar Pradesh, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and others in Bihar—won more but less in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
From BJP National President, Amit Shah’s perspective the BJP must now concentrate on the above two states. It is necessary to tell voters in both the states that the BJP is there for the long term, and, hopefully would establish itself as the largest party.
The BJP will thus take the upcoming local body polls in West Bengal seriously. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections are scheduled for April 18, while ninety-two other municipalities would go to the polls on April 25. BJP is set to emerge as a major contender in these elections upsetting the CPI(M).
Scared about losing its remaining bastions in West Bengal and driven by factionalism in Kerala, the CPI(M) has lost its bearings. What India saw on March 13 was a party struggling to maintain its relevance by keeping itself in the headlines at almost any cost.
What exactly has the CPI(M) achieved? Here are its three 'achievements'.
First, it has left every thoughtful Indian nauseated. As a commentator on one Hindi channel observed, violence has been seen in the Vidhan Sabha in Uttar Pradesh for instance, but vandalism always stopped at the Speaker's chair. That Lakshmanrekha has been crossed. Parliamentary privilege says that a legislator can't be prevented from going to the House, and that the Speaker must be informed if a Member’s arrest is sought even on a criminal charge.
Second, the CPI(M)'s vandalism drew attention away from KM Mani, both the man and his budget. The man stands accused of allegedly accepting a bribe from bar owners following the imposition of prohibition. The finance minister was forced to raise taxes on a variety of items — including rice and wheat—to make up the loss of revenue from alcohol sales. KM Mani should have been doubly unpopular, both for the alleged corruption and for the enhanced taxes. Incredibly, the CPI(M) has saved him from the dual dose of embarrassment.
Third, did the CPI(M) consider what would happen if the budget were stalled? When the financial year ends, the Government of Kerala would lack the authority to draw a single rupee from the treasury; salaries would not be paid, and public servants—from policemen to garbage collectors—would probably go on strike. To prevent chaos, the Union Government would use Article 356, dismiss the State government, and get Kerala's budget passed by the Parliament.
Do the Marxists truly want to foist President's Rule on Kerala while Narendra Modi is Prime Minister?
The CPI(M) has lost its bearings under the leadership of Prakash Karat. If it makes the news at all then it is for all the wrong reasons as on that dreadful March 13.
TVR Shenoy (The writer is a senior columnist)