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Sunday, April 09, 2000

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Pre-poll peeves

The first drumbeats of the next election to the Kerala Assembly have triggered a flurry of trouble-shooting activity in the two major coalitions in the State, says K. M. THAMPI.

THE POLITICAL situation remains fluid in Kerala even as the Election Commission sounded in Delhi a few days ago the first drumbeats of the next election to the State Assembly, to be held early next year.

It has triggered a flurry of trouble-shooting activity in the two major coalition setups in the State - the CPI(M)-led LDF which controls the rein of the State administration and the UDF headed by the Congress(I) which is the major Opposition.

The BJP is yet to open its account in the Assembly though it is making its presence felt in the local bodies including the Municipal Corporation in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

The major constituents of the LDF, the CPI(M) and the CPI, have already started their differences-ironing-out exercise in the northern districts of Kerala with little success, according to initial reports.

But the top leaders who are taking the initiative for it, the CPI(M) politbureau member, Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan, who is also the convener of the LDF, and the State Assistant Secretary of the CPI, Mr. Pannian Ravindran, have expressed confidence about settling the disputes, facing the coming elections unitedly and coming back to power notwithstanding the choppy sea, the strong wind and the deluge which are buffetting the LDF vessel now.

The UDF high-power committee has, in the meantime, decided to set up district-level committees by an April 30 deadline to sort out irritants among the constituents which consist mainly of the unofficial alliances hammered out by the Congress(I) at the panchayat level and over which the Muslim League in particular is badly cut up.

The supreme body of the UDF is meeting again early next month to review the situation.

The CPI(M)'s bid to play big brother has always been the bane of coalitions headed by it. The situation is no different this time either.

Soon after the LDF came to power after the elections held in April/May 1996, the CPI(M) came out with the novel idea of following up the decentralisation of power, which like the toddler that it was had started taking its first few steps after many falls, with decentralisation of planning.

It basically meant that the people's representatives at the grassroot level will, in consultation with the people, decide the development projects which should be implemented at that level.

As projects, at times unnecessary ones, were till then foisted from above, it was hailed as the local people were supposed to be more conscious of the needs of an area than outsiders especially those sitting in the State capital.

But the other constituents of the LDF, particularly the CPI and the RSP, charged the CPI(M) with throwing a spanner in the works by appointing expert committees consisting of its nominees above the people's representatives and insisting on their clearance for projects.

These two parties also took exception to the Planning Board in general and the nominees in it of the CPI(M) in particular functioning like a super cabinet often dictating what the Ministries controlled by even other constituents should and should not do.

These were the issues over which the CPI and the RSP openly took up cudgels against the CPI(M) first. Even though they are yet to be sorted out to the satisfaction of the two parties, it is probably because of their belligerant stand that the CPI(M) did not rub it in after that.

Many more irritants between the CPI(M) on the one hand and the other constituents of the LDF on the other have cropped up since then.

They include the takeover of the Kollam Lok Sabha seat from the RSP and the Kannur Lok Sabha seat from the NCP by the CPI(M) in the last election, the SN College issue in which the AISF, students wing of the CPI, had to face ``cruel repression'' from the SFI, students' wing of the CPI(M), and the police, the bid of the CPI(M) which controls the police to implement a people's police scheme without consultations with the other constituents of the LDF and the manhandling of critics and those who did not toe its line, especially the CPI workers, by the CPI(M) in many parts of the State.

While the RSP and the NCP have been swallowing these without a word of protest because of their own internal problems, the CPI has flexed its muscle to get its demands conceded on some of the issues.

It twisted the CPI(M)'s arm to get a judicial probe ordered into the police action against AISF workers and to postpone the inauguration of the much tom-tomed people's police scheme.

Compared to the LDF's, the UDF's problems are a lark. The Congress(I) is more likely to end its unholy alliances at the panchayat level than turn the Muslim League hostile, which it can ill-afford at such a crucial juncture.

The smaller parties have so far been clamouring mainly for more seats especially in the Lok Sabha election by drawing attention to the LDF's example. But they cannot do that any longer.

The CPI is a party which allowed the Government headed by it to fall for the sake of the unity of left and democratic forces in Kerala years ago.

It demonstrated its stake in left unity once more through the recent developments in West Bengal. The Muslim League had quit the UDF in a huff a few years ago only to rush back to it.

The present situation does not warrant any dramatic change in either front and as things stand, they will in all probability face the coming elections intact and in their present form.

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