No political leader has ever been so widely talked about in Kerala as Kummanam Rajasekharan. This is despite the fact that he is quite new to State politics and took over as the state president of BJP only a few months back. People were flocking in lakhs as the new leader criss-crossed the state during his ‘Vimochana Yatra’ covering all the 140 assembly constituencies. The latest experiment in the country’s political crucible will be the two rival fronts, Congress-led UDF and CPM-led LDF engaging themselves in a ‘friendly contest’ in a joint bid to prevent BJP opening account. And every leader from the Congress and the CPM visiting the state, right from Rahul Gandhi to Sitaram Yechury tells unambiguously to their ranks and the people that BJP is their enemy number one. On the other hand, a confident Kummanam Rajasekharan asserts that BJP’s task this time, is not merely to open account in the assembly but to win maximum seats.
Making inroads, fighting the two mighty fronts which have been monopolising State politics for the past fifty years, is no doubt a Herculean task. But what brightens BJP’s hopes at the hustling is the people’s urge for a change. Fed up with the stinking UDF-LDF politics which is lately oriented towards infamous but fraud Saritha Nair, the people are looking forward to a third alternative which BJP strives to project. They are birds of the same feather in principle and practice. Saritha who has been levelling grave corruption charges one after another against Congress Chief Minister Ommen Chandy and his cabinet colleagues also gone on record stating that she was offered Rs 10 crore by CPM to come out against the UDF regime. Action and reaction by the two fronts is confined to their lips, which is dubbed as ‘adjustment politics’.
The ‘adjustment politics’ is all the more glaring as the Congress and CPM are hand in glove in West Bengal which also goes to poll along with Kerala.CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury was very cautious while inaugurating a party conclave last month in Thiruvanantha-puram not to attack Congress. So was Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at his recent public speech in the state capital where he was very soft towards Communists. By launching a virulent campaign against Kummanam, immediately on his assumption of office as the helmsman of Kerala BJP, the simultaneous but systematic attempt of the two fronts was to paint him as anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. Their frantic efforts proved futile as the new BJP state president’s first task was to go round meeting heads of all religions and seeking their blessings. Religious heads of minority communities including Christian Bishops and Muslim Moulavis minced no words in openly endorsing Kummanam’s secular credentials. During the ‘Vimochana Yatra’, at several places, breakfast and lunch were hosted at Bishop’s Houses in honour of BJP state president.
What concerns UDF and LDF leaders is the popular appeal of the new chief of BJP in the state. In every sense, a man of the masses, Rajettan, as he is affectionately called, has ‘the Midas touch’ of whatever he touches turning gold. It was by spearheading the Nilakkal agitation of the eighties that Kummanam Rajasekharan came to lime light. A silent although active swayamsevak from his student days, Kummanam had to give up his job in Food Corporation of India to take up cudgels on behalf of people. Since then his life has been a saga of struggles for the cause of the public. The latest was the successful campaign against the proposal for an airport at Aranmula destroying its unique heritage and ecology. Kummanam has mastered the art and craft of mobilising people. Though very familiar with the pulse of the people, he is new to party politics. But his faith in the people, he takes it as a challenge. To the oft-repeated questions by media persons whether his party would open account this time, his ready reply is an emphatic ‘yes’.
With the induction of Kummanam at the helm, the party could close ranks and rally behind the new leader. This is what ignites confidence among the party ranks and instils credibility among the people. Above all, political climate in the State is most congenial for a third alternative to conquer and consolidate with the image of both the fronts being badly shattered. UDF ministers, one after the other, are tainted thanks to corruption charges. Already two ministers had to bow out of office, on intervention by the court, though one in due course of time chose to withdraw his resignation. The Chief Minister had to subject himself to fourteen hour marathon interrogation by the judicial commission enquiring into corruption charges. CPM leaders are also equally tainted. Pinarayi Vijayan, former state secretary of the party who is CPM’s Chief Minister candidate is already facing a CBI enquiry. This follows the Lavalin scam during his tenure as electricity minister in an earlier LDF cabinet. A couple of other senior leaders of CPM are also facing trial in murder cases. The state assembly often proved to be ‘the mad house’ thanks to unruly scenes created on the floor by the warring fronts.
Yet another factor which BJP could politically cash in during the election campaign is in regard to the state’s development. Kerala was all along written off as a problem state where nothing grows. Of late silver rays of hope have appeared on the Kerala horizon thanks to the change in outlook and attitude of the Narendra Modi Government at the centre. Significantly there is no complaint whatsoever of Centre’s neglect or step motherly attitude for the past one and a half years, either from UDF or LDF. Ministers approaching the Centre with development projects are accorded red carpet welcome. Their proposals are promptly attended to. Even Congress Ministers admit the “refreshing change in New Delhi’s attitude” ever since Modi took over as Prime Minister. But as election campaign is picking up momentum, there is an attempt by Congress leadership to hijack the credit of state’s development projects. And the state leadership of BJP is yet to rise to the occasion and claim it’s due. The Vizhinjam port project is a classic example of Congress hijacking the credit although every urchin in the state knows that the project would never have taken off, but for Modi.
The Modi effect is very visible in Kerala politics today. Every party, every front, every candidate is focussing on the development plan. This is quite unlike the past when emotional issues always dominated electoral politics. Significantly the lead has come from CPM which organised a massive conclave on the eve of elections to discuss development issues. The party is also busy drafting an ‘alternate development model’ with discussions and deliberations right from the constituency level. Many of the proposals mooted at the CPM conclave knowingly or unknowingly have a Modi touch. Congress also plays up the development card. Precisely therefore, development could be key issue at the coming elections in Kerala which should also prove handy to BJP. But the ultimate question is whether BJP under Kummanam Rajasekharan’s leadership will succeed in liberating Kerala from the strangle hold of front politics. The Yatra he undertook from Kasaragod to Thiuruvananathapuram was aptly named Kerala Vimochana Yatra meaning odyssey for Kerala’s liberation. Will Kerala liberate itself?
Hari S Kartha
(The wrtier is Senior Executive Editor, Amrita TV)