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Updated: March 27, 2014 10:51 IST

Communal politics and realpolitik

George Jacob
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Major fronts kowtowing to community-based groups

The year 1980. Kerala Congress (M) leader K.M. Mani, then aligned with the Left, is engaged in a life or death political battle with Congress(I)’s M.M. Jacob at Pala. The Congress(I) [the faction led by Indira Gandhi] decides to use the ultimate weapon: it persuades the then Bishop of Pala to release a pastoral letter against the candidature of Mr. Mani. But to the surprise of many, Mr. Mani comes out unscathed and wins the election with a margin of 4,566 votes.

The year 2014. The Bishop of Idukki issues an ultimatum against Congress’s star MP P.T. Thomas for speaking on behalf of the party’s environmental policy, which is questioned by the Church. The Congress meekly withdraws Mr. Thomas from the arena even as the Left parties support the candidate fielded by the Church-sponsored agitationist organisation.


In the past three decades, both the major coalitions in the State have increasingly come under pressure from religious and community-based groups, and have often given in. “Both the fronts have arrived at their own internal equilibrium by compromising with these forces, which they would not like to upset by any means,” says Jos Chathukulam, director, Centre for Rural Management.

Even if individuals are changed, the pressure groups they represent remain the same, he said, pointing to the selection of the Congress candidate in the Idukki segment and the LDF candidate in Ernakulam.

In spite of opposition from within the party, sometimes the leaders find it difficult to experiment with new faces from other religious or caste identities since it would upset the equilibrium they have established through the decades.

The Left could remain insulated from such pressures as long as it focussed on class interests alone. However, with the polity becoming increasingly weary of ideological identities, and the increasing need for expanding the vote base, the Left appears to have chosen the easy way out. The rising number of Independents on their list and their social identities point to the disturbing trend.

Many believe what the State witnessed during the run-up to the elections was expected with the introduction of neoliberal polices. The resultant decrease in the role of the State has made the parties increasingly vulnerable.

This space is being usurped by civil society organisations. “This will also ensure that the resistance against the main enemy is dissipated before it snowballs into a major class antagonism, thus averting a struggle,” K.M. Seethi, director, Dr. K.N. Raj Study Centre for Planning and Centre State Financial Relations at Mahatma Gandhi University, said.

Social space

That leveraging the social space was more effective than directly entering the political arena was learnt through experience by both the Nair Service Society and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, as evidenced by their decision to recall the political outfits that they had floated, he said. One of the worst hit are the marginalised sections who find themselves outside the orbit of the so-called Kerala model of development, since the communally-aligned lobbying forces are those who are hugely benefited by this model.

Environment issue

Another area under direct threat from political parties giving in to pressures would be the environment, Dr. Chathukulam said.

“The very fact that the Chief Minister had identified the Western Ghats conservation process, the wetland conservation efforts, and Coastal Regulation Zone rules as his targets for making them more ‘people- friendly’ is a clear pointer of things to come,” he said.

However, the biggest loser in the fight by the political parties for a larger footprint by giving into communal and religious pressures will be the liberal space that Kerala society holds so dear.

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