The LDF's return to power with a thumping margin, spike in covid-19 infection after the elections, the controversy surrounding self styled antiques dealer Monson Mavunkal which opened a can of worms for the Left government after his arrest and the state facing devastating landslides due to heavy rains were the significant events which Kerala witnessed in the year 2021.
Political murders-- that of a SDPI functionary and a BJP leader in the fag end of the year in Alappuzha and Christmas day violence involving labourers of a private firm that was at loggerheads with the government also dotted the year. The first half of 2021 saw the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) break the four-decade trend of no-incumbent getting re-elected, by coming to power for a consecutive term, winning 99 out of the 140 seats in state assembly.
A combination of factors including effective management of the devastating floods that hit the state in 2018 and 2019, measures taken to control the spread of the deadly Nipah virus and initial management of COVID-19 pandemic are among those contributed for the massive victory of the LDF. "The people voted for the LDF keeping in mind that the development trajectory should be carried out. In that way it is a historic win and for the first time, the same leader who was the chief minister (Pinarayi Vijayan) got his front victory and he himself took over as CM", CPI(M) politburo member M A Baby told PTI.
The Congress-led UDF, hopeful of storming to power after five years, suffered a huge setback in the Assembly elections winning only 41 seats and this forced the Congress party's high command to effect some major changes in its leadership in the state. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy-led "A" group and Ramesh Chennithala-led "I" group were forced to pave the way for the rise of the party's Kannur strongman K Sudhakaran as state Congress chief and Paravoor MLA V D Satheesan as the Leader of Opposition.
"Of course, we lost the election. That was very unexpected also. There were mistakes and we are trying to correct them. We have got a new PCC chief and new Leader of Opposition. They are giving a new direction to the party. We will definitely come back", Congress leader and Angamaly MLA Roji M John said. KPCC general secretary and party MLA Mathew Kuzhalandan said the biggest message of the result was "mere rhetoric, mere expectations and mere calculations will not take you to victory".
The results also dealt a huge blow to the BJP, which was hoping to win more seats in Kerala Assembly, but had to forgo even the lone seat--Nemom-- it captured in the 2016 polls. Metroman E Sreedharan, who was projected as the party's Chief Ministerial candidate, lost polls to Congress' much younger Shafi Parambil in Palakkad seat and later in the year decided to quit politics. Post elections, the state reeled under a spike in COVID-19 cases and health experts blamed the massive poll rallies for rise in infections and the resultant death toll.
Active cases jumped from 31,493 on April 3 to 4,38,913 on May 14 in Kerala and the huge spike in infections put the health system at risk. After the daily infections had "plateaued" -- a term used by the state government to describe the almost consistent number of cases from mid-June to mid-August -- there was a spike in covid cases again after the Eid and Onam festivities in the state. From the last week of August and for the entire September the state recorded more than 20,000 cases on a daily basis with the numbers crossing the 30,000 mark on several occasions.
During that period, the Kerala government had faced flak from its political opponents and public health experts for its alleged carelessness regarding the pandemic management, which according to them had led to the rise in cases and Test Positivity Ratio (TPR) in the southern state. It was only by the second week of October that the cases fell below the 10,000 mark and though by the fag end of year the infections had dropped below 2,000, the state had by then racked up a caseload of over 52 lakh, behind Maharashtra.
Poor COVID-19 management was not the only criticism which was thrown at the Left government, but it had to face brickbats from the opposition and other parties over its handling of the controversial "love and narcotic jihad" remark made by a Catholic Bishop, Mavunkal's alleged connections with senior police officers and bureaucrats as well as the law and order situation in the state in view of increasing attacks on women and gangs related violence.
Mavunkal's arrest in a cheating case opened up a can of worms with several persons coming forward with complaints ranging from cheating to sexual assault of minor girls as well as allegations regarding his "connections" in the police force, which led even the Kerala High Court to sit up and take notice of the matter. The Left government also faced flak over its handling of natural disasters, like landslides, due to the heavy rains in the second half of the year. Over 40 lives were lost and there was widespread damage to property in various parts of the state due to landslides and floods.
The rains also led to another long festering issue raising its head -- opening of the Mullaperiyar dam by Tamil Nadu and the resultant problems in the areas lying downstream of it. With the neighbouring state raising the dam's shutters late at night without much advance warning, leading to houses downstream getting flooded after midnight prompted chief minister Vijayan to write to his counterpart in Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin. The year also saw a 22-year-old woman -- Anupama S Chandran -- waging an unparalleled battle to reclaim her baby who was forcibly separated from her by her parents just three days after his birth.
This case too was a source of embarrassment for the state government as the woman's father was a senior CPI(M) member and her complaints to the party leadership, the CM, the police and the child welfare authorities brought her no success till the media highlighted her plight. She braved heavy rains and bad weather to stage an agitation in front of the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare Centre here for a fortnight and ignored discouraging words and relentless cyber bullying during her lonely battle to finally reclaim her child who was away in another state with his adoptive parents.
The fag end of the year saw brutal back to back killings of an SDPI leader and a BJP leader in the state's coastal district of Alappuzha, prompting the police to launch a massive manhunt, raids in hideouts of the accused and measures to curb those spreading fake news and false message through social media and the admins of such platforms who allow discussion on them. On Christmas night, celebrations by migrant labourers from the north east at Kizhakkambalam turned violent, leading to several policemen being brutally assaulted and two police jeeps badly damaged, with one set on fire. As many as 163 workers of Kitex Garments were arrested.
Company MD Sabu Jacob, who earlier withdrew a proposed Rs 3,500 crore investment in his home state following differences with the government, alleged such a large number of his employees were arrested due to the state government's personal enmity towards him, his company and the Twenty20 organisation. Kerala also lost some of its prominent figures in cultural and political fields during the year. They include legendary Communist leader K R Gowri Amma, senior Congress leader P T Thomas, actor Nedumudy Venu, poet Vishnu Narayan Namboothiri, noted Ayurveda practitioner Padma Bhushan P K Warrier, director K S Sethumadhavan and lyricist Bichu Tirumala.
-With PTI Inputs