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Where Is The Tool Box?
A young, happy-go-lucky and obviously jobless Anil Anakkara walks into the minimalist Aam Aadmi office on M.G. Road in Kochi with a wide grin on his face. He’s come to offer his services to the newly formed party in Kerala. He is an ‘A’ specialist who can give an entire speech beginning each word with the letter A. He contends that those fighting azhimathi (corruption) like Arvind Kejriwal and Ernakulam AAP candidate, the former Time correspondent Anita Pratap, have a predominantly ‘A’ ring to them and they should welcome his services. Then he rattles off on a high A note. When he leaves, the motley bunch of staffers heave a sigh of relief and turn back to their work. One of them remarks, “This party is filled with dreamers.” Though confident the AAP will eat into the voteshare of the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communists, they are strangely united in their wish that their candidate does not win!
It’s not surprising then that the very next day news comes that the AAP election campaign committee members in Ernakulam have been stripped of their duties and a new committee inducted. This, with just hardly a few days left for election day. But then, it isn’t just the newly formed party that is seeing rebellion among party workers. Dissent seems to be the overriding mood across Kerala. And funnily, it’s the structured, disciplined CPI(M) bearing the most of it. You ask some of them and they shrug and say, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.” The situation is so bad the CPI(M) is supporting independent candidates in five big constituencies—Ernakulam, Idukki, Chalakkudy, Ponnani and Pathanamthitta—and is supporting an ally in Kottayam. There’s no sign in these areas of the familiar white sickle and hammer in a background of red party symbol. It’s the TV set of Christy Fernandes in Ernakulam, Joyce George’s torch in Idukki, the mud pot of actor Innocent in Chalakkudy.... Party workers are naturally unhappy that these candidates have been “foisted on them” from above by CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.
The Marxist leadership has been divided into the Pinarayi faction and that of popular Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan for some time now. Though the latter’s wings have been clipped—his loyalists have been expelled or censured and he himself has been ticked off at politburo meetings—Achuthanandan continues to be a thorn in the side of the official state unit. And he hasn’t had to go far to find cause too—the corruption scandals, the murder of CPI(M) rebel T.P. Chandrashekaran by partymen, the list gets longer every day. Achuthanandan has been especially vocal about “TP’s murder”, even asking the government to seek a CBI probe (which has further irked the Pinarayi faction). However, a recent reconciliation meeting between the two was given much play to send out the message that all is well in the party. But no one’s fooled by it. Says Ravi, an auto- rickshaw driver in Ernakulam, “It’s all a big show. Across Kerala, there will be cross-voting for the Congress.” You’ve just to walk on the roads to know what he says is a reality, the Communist party symbol has been blanked out in some six major constituencies. Says Kunjumol, a housemaid in Kottayam, “I have always voted for the comrades but my husband say we must vote Congress this time...but I can’t help it, my hand will automatically go to the Communist symbol when I reach the polling booth.” Little does she realise that the Communist symbol will be missing from the panel this time.
For the Malayali, angry about a host of issues, be it price rice of commodities, cooking gas, petrol or lack of drinking water, there’s also a self-defeating cynicism building up. Says Selen, standing outside the Sacred Heart College in Thevara, Kochi, where K.V. Thomas, Union food minister and LS candidate again, was once a professor here, “I am not going to bother this time. I have always voted but nothing good’s come out of it. The only people who benefit is the bpl segment. Bus fares are up, so is the cooking gas price. Even my daughter, a first-time voter, says she’ll be using the NOTA.” In the capital Thiruvananthapuram, 19-year-old Anurag echoes the same anger, “No, polling isn’t for me. Politicians don’t do any good for us once they are voted to power.” The younger voters’ apathy, say analysts, may well benefit the Congress in both Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram where it has fielded sitting MPs Thomas and Shashi Tharoor (Union MoS for HRD).
Another factor going for the Congress is the consolidating Muslim votes, which has grown to 25.67 per cent of the Kerala electorate now. Analysts say the Muslims, nervous with the Modi surge, will stay loyal behind the Congress instead of experimenting with the Left or independents. But also, in most constituencies, strong candidates have emerged making it a tough fight for the major parties. Shashi Tharoor won by a large margin in ’09, but election watchers say the margin could be down to 25,000 votes or less this time. Left candidate Bennet Abraham could walk away with the Nadar caste votes and BJP veteran O. Rajagopal could eat into the Nair votes which Tharoor is also banking on. There is expected to be much mudslinging in the days to come but loyal voters seem to have made up their minds already. Says Congress voter T.K. Thomas, “No one’s done more for Thiruvananthapuram than Tharoor. No one’s a patch on him. The death of his wife is his personal issue.”
Strangely, the AAP has been blanked out across Kerala by the media except in Ernakulam. AAP has strong candidates in Thrissur, Chalakkudy, Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam, and it could eat into the Congress tally though they won’t win any seats. It’s been actively working the social networking sites trying to win over the new voters. Some 20 lakh will exercise their franchise for the first time this LS election. But the apathy shown by many of them will ensure the larger picture is to Congress advantage. At the moment, the party and its allies seem to be taking at least 15-16 of the 20 seats from the state.