Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kerala last week, accompanied by a battery of Central Ministers, largely from the State, including new Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi, is being viewed here as the launch of the Congress' election campaign for the coming Assembly elections.
Clearly, the Congress is pulling out all the stops to ensure that it is able to defeat the Left Democratic Front, now in power in Kerala. The tone and tenor of the speeches made by the Ministers, while speaking at a variety of venues, was uniformly combative: the central point was that all recent development projects in the State were being funded by New Delhi.
Even as Dr. Singh inaugurated two major projects — the new international terminal building at the Thiruvananthapuram Airport and the first phase of India's first international container transhipment terminal at Vallarpadam — the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee organised the Kerala Development Congress, where the discussions centred round the “developmental crisis” in Kerala, in a bid to corner the ruling LDF.
Indeed, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram used the occasion to stress that all recent development projects had “come from the investment of the Centre,” demonstrating the Union government's commitment to Kerala.
The Prime Minister too criticised the LDF, saying it was not using various Central schemes for the benefit of the people.
Interestingly, a government advertisement showing a map of Kerala with a whopping 31 major Central development projects marked across its 14 States — all brought to the State during the United Progressive Alliance's stint in power at the Centre from 2004 — was prepared to coincide with the visit. In the end, only one insert of the ad was reportedly released to a major Kerala newspaper, lest it raise eyebrows in other less fortunate States. The newspaper in question even has an approving article on its edit page on the subject.
But even as the Congress is focussing on the development projects it has brought to the State, a series of State-level scams has embroiled the party and its partners in the State. Congress sources told The Hindu that the party was concerned that these scandals should not damage the party in the run-up to the polls.
The latest shock to the party came last week, when the Supreme Court awarded one-year rigorous imprisonment to the former Kerala Power Minister and Kerala Congress-B (a constituent of the Congress-led UDF) leader, R. Balakrishna Pillai, and two others in the Idamalayar dam corruption case, reversing the acquittal order passed by the Kerala High Court.
Later, BJP State president V. Muralidharan, in the wake of the controversial revelation made by the former Civil Supplies Minister and an accused in the Palmolein case, T.H. Musthapha, tried to draw senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy, Finance Minister at the time, in too, demanding that he also be charge-sheeted in the case.
The proceedings in the Kerala Assembly were disrupted last week during zero hour with the ruling LDF and the Congress-led UDF opposition members trading charges over the “icecream parlour” sex scandal case. CPI (M) member K.K. Shylaja referred to IUML leader P.K. Kunhalikutty — a Congress ally — while presenting a calling attention on sexual harassment cases.
Clearly, the Congress is hoping it will be able to set the electoral agenda, focussing on the development theme, rather than getting distracted by the LDF's and the BJP's efforts to put scandals, involving Congressmen and their allies, on the front burner.