Come election time, tables turn. For the ageing leaders of the Left in Kerala, the 2014 General Election was meant to be a cakewalk. Unlikely to gain seats in West Bengal, it was heavily banking on the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala. The Congress-led government was caught in a bind in the Rs 70 crore solar panel scam and lady luck was smiling on the Left Democratic Front (LDF), a coalition of left-leaning parties in the state. The coalition leader CPM believed it could carve itself an impressive tally in Kerala.
In a Freudian slip, CPM State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said at a party briefing that he was “over confident and a bit arrogant,” at his party’s prospects ahead of the polls. But destiny had it otherwise.
The admission came after Vijayan managed to win over two prominent Congress leaders, who agreed to fight the election for the LDF. He trumped that up by winning popular Malayalam film actor Innocent to his side, who joined the fray as an independent candidate for the LDF from Chalakudy in central Kerala.
Moreover, with president Pratibha Patil’s secretary Christy Fernandez joining hands with the Left in Ernakulam, and the Congress’ declining clout in the hill districts following the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee’s on the Western Ghats, Vijayan had every reason to smile. Vijayan has managed the affairs of the Left in the state for the past 16 years. With the wheels of fortune turning in favour of the LDF, Vijayan wanted to make the most of the situation. He bulldozed the LDF proceedings and directed CPM candidates to start their election campaign at the earliest.
Within a day, it was the LDF that was caught in a bind. The Congress engineered a political coup in the LDF, winning the confidence of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and offering it the Kollam Lok Sabha seat.
The RSP had been a constituent of the LDF since the 1980s and was considered more loyal to the coalition than the CPI. It continues to remain as an integral part of the Left Front in West Bengal, Tripura and at the national level. The RSP in Kerala snapped ties with the CPM and embraced the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) 34 years after allying with the Left, to register its protest against the “big brother CPM”.
Things took an uglier turn after the Janata Dal (Secular) headed by Mathew T Thomas revolted against the CPM for denying tickets to the party. The JD(S), which has four MLAs in the Kerala Assembly, threatened to field candidates in five constituencies against the LDF. Finally, the CPM offered the Kottayam seat to JD(S), asking it to opt out of the fray from the remaining seats.
The Forward Bloc and the Indian National League, two political outfits that supported the LDF in Kerala, staged their feeble protest and decided to field candidates against it in a few constituencies. Later, they too withdrew their candidates. The manner in which political developments took a turn in less than a week has left the CPM to review its strategy before the election campaign commences.
At the Pradesh Congress Committee office, Chief Minsiter Oommen Chandy distributed sweets to mark the RSP’s return to the UDF fold after nearly three-and-a-half decades. Sensing a storm brewing in its own backyard, the UDF was quick to placate its leaders to keep the coalition together. Kerala Congress (Mani) demanded the Idukki seat, where Chandy loyalist PT Thomas had locked horns with a Catholic bishop on the issue of implementing the Kasturirangan panel recommendations.
The party went on to sacrifice the Palakkad seat to mollify the Janata Dal (Democratic) headed by MP Veerendrakumar. Meanwhile, Congress MP from Thrissur, PC Chacko, demanded the Chalakudy seat, fearing that a section of Congress leaders and Catholic leaders were working against him. Finally, AK Antony had to intervene and pacify the sitting mp, KP Dhanapalan, to shift from Chalakudy to Thrissur.
With only 15 seats to contest from and too many leaders to accommodate, both Chandy and PCC President VM Sudheeran used their grit to tide over the revolts.
Pre-election revolt also hit the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a major constituent of the UDF. IUML cadres objected to the candidature of party national president and Union Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed from Malappuram. They raised slogans against Ahamed and criticised him for visiting his constituency only on the eve of elections. They wanted him to retire from electoral politics. But the 76-year-old outsmarted his detractors and managed to claim his seat from the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district.
Even the BJP fared no better. Party cadres and the Hindu Munnani, the religious and cultural organisation under the Sangh Parivar, revolted against KJ Alphonse, former IAS officer, contesting from Pathanamthitta. He was denied a party ticket at the last minute.
The 2014 General Election will see an interesting mix of former civil servants, filmstars, journalists, social activists and writers take the centre stage. They are trying to forget their political past with new zeal in a bid to claim victory.
NK Premachandran | 53 | Kollam, RSP (UDF)
Revolutionary Socialist Party leader NK Premachandran has always been seen as a Left leader since his student days. Rated as the most-friendly face of the Left In Kerala, he won the people’s support with his gentle behaviour, maturity and hearty smile. A good orator, Premachandran was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kollam in 1996 and the Rajya Sabha during 200-2006. He was also elected to Kerala Assembly and became the minister for water resources in the VS Achuthanandan-led LDF government. Now, he is batting for the Congress from Kollam against MA Baby, CPM politburo member.
“We have no option other than leaving the LDF. It is a collective decision taken by our party and I hope to win from Kollam, as I’m familiar in the constituency,” Premachandran told TEHELKA. The CPM has branded him a traitor who betrays his political lineage.
Philippose Thomas | 65 | Pathanamthitta, Independent (LDF)
A Congress party member for nearly half a century, Philippose Thomas has already adjusted well to his new identity. The former AICC member and Pathanamthitta District Congress Committee President for 11 years, became a target for senior congress leaders in the state, when he opposed Aranmula International Airport project for violating green norms. As a campaign manager of Congress, his strategies helped the party win most of the seats in Pathanamthitta district.
“I was smoked out of Congress party. Now I’m fighting the election for the Left as an Independent. I feel comfortable with Left parties and I don’t regret my decision,” Philippose told TEHELKA.
Born in a poor family, Philippose started his political life when he was still a student. He scaled up the party ladder with his hard work and has a clean image. His fall from grace began after PJ Kurien was named in the Suryanelli rape case. Philippose refused to endorse Kurien when he was asked to vouch for him. Since then, Kurien has spared no chance to target Philippose. “You always don’t live in the past. I’ve taken a decision and I feel happy about it. I’m confidant that I can win this election,” Philippose concluded. He will take on sitting Congress MP Anto Antony in Pathanamthitta.
Innocent | 69 | Chalakudy, Independent (LDF)
Kerala smiles whenever his image flashes on the silver screen. An integral part of the Malayalam film industry, with his humour and dialogues in the Thrissur slang, Innocent’s entry as a Left Independent in Chalakudy surprised most people. In the 70s he was a Municipal councilor and district secretary of the RSP. In 2006, the LDF wanted to field Innocent from the Irinjalakuda Assembly constituency, but he turned down the offer saying he didn’t have the mindset of a politician. Eight years later, he siezed the opportunity when it presented itself again after Malayalam actor Mammootty convinced Innocent that he has a fair chance of winning the seat. “I’ve started my campaign and am receiving very good responses. I’ve been acting in the movies since 1972. I’m 69 now. I feel that I should work for the people who have showered affection on me,” Innocent told TEHELKA.
He is making waves in the constituency with his instant humour and friendly mannerism. With his entry into the fray Congress MP PC Chacko will have a tough time retaining his seat.
V Abdurahman | 50 | Ponnani, Independent (LDF)
V Abdurahman was a Congressman until two months ago. A former PCC executive committee member and former vice-chairman of Tirur Municipal Council, he started his political career as a student leader. He left the Congress in 2009 after it was humiliated by the IUML and decided to align with the CPM to contest election against IUML nominee ET Muhammed Basheer.” The voters are disgusted with league criminal politics,” he told TEHELKA. But his task is not an easy one as Basheer won the 2009 election with a margin of 86000 votes.
Sarah Joseph | 68 | Thrissur, AAP
Sarah Joseph, popularly known as Sarah teacher, a renowned storyteller and Kendra Sahitya Akademi award winner, is trying her political luck at her hometown in Thrissur. Always at the forefront of feminist movement, Joseph believes that AAP can bring positive change in Kerala politics. “We are disgusted with the current political gimmicks. We need a change and AAP promises a new hope,” she says.
Anita Pratap | 55 | Ernakulam, AAP
Celebrity journalist Anita Pratap is donning a new role in the election ring. She had spent her whole life covering major events in south Asia as a journalist, but in Ernakulam, she is trying to tell voters what she could do for them if she is elected. Within a week of her campaign, she started speaking fluent Malayalam and impressed her supporters with charming manners. Anita is banking on the votes of the women and the youth.
Christy Fernandez | 64 | Ernakulam, Independent (LDF)
The 1973 batch IAS officer from the Gujarat cadre is regarded as everyone’s friend. He has maintained cordial contact with all political parties in the state. Fernandez was the secretary to president of India when Pratiba Patil held the chair. He has maintained a very cordial relationship with Narendra Modi. He also helped Union Minsiter KV Thomas to get a party ticket in 2009. His entry as a Left independent candidate surprised many. Christy wanted to be in politics after his retirement and tried his luck with AAP first. But he was asked to wait for two years. Meanwhile, senior CPM leaders found it convenient to field him in Catholic dominating Ernakulam. Christy started his campaign in Ernakulam with series of meeting with Catholic bishops an other community leaders. He feels that he has a good chance of wresting the seat for the Left.
“There is a strong anti-incumbency wave in the constituency against the Congress governments in the centre and the state. Being a Left Independent candidate, could help me win,” Christy told TEHELKA.