The Left has fielded non-party candidates to expand its influence

The Left has always displayed in Kerala a willingness to experiment with non-party candidates in elections so as to expand its influence among sections considered outside its fold.

In these elections, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], which leads the Left Democratic Front (LDF), has chosen to field non-party men in five of the 15 Lok Sabha constituencies it is contesting. And the Communist Party of India (CPI), which is contesting four constituencies, is fielding a non-party man in one constituency, though he is contesting on the CPI symbol.

The five Independent candidates who the CPI(M) expects will bring to the LDF votes from outside its traditional support base are cine actor Innocent in Chalakudy, former Secretary to the Indian President and ex-bureaucrat Christy Fernandez in Ernakulam, legal adviser to the High-Range Protection Council Joice George in Idukki, former Pathanamthitta district Congress unit president Peelipose Thomas in Pathanamthitta, and former Congress member V. Abdu Rahman in Ponnani.

The CPI is fielding in Thiruvananthapuram Bennet Abraham, who is the director of Dr. Somervell Memorial Medical College at Karakkonam, run by the South Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India.

Innocent’s case

In Mr. Innocent’s case, it is apparently his popularity as a good actor that brought him the candidature, while community factors seem to have weighed in the favour of Mr. Fernandez and Dr. Abraham. The Left perceives the agitation against the K. Kasturirangan panel report on Western Ghats conservation, targeting the Congress-led government at the Centre, as providing the right climate for it to turn non-Left votes in Idukki in its favour, and hence the selection of Mr. George as its independent candidate there. The LDF also counts on Mr. Thomas and Mr. Rahman to facilitate the flow of discontented Congress votes to its side.

A good example of success with such candidate selection experiments is the case of T.K. Hamsa, who became a CPI(M) Independent in the Nilambur Assembly constituency in 1982 after relinquishing his position as the district president of the Congress. Making inroads into traditional United Democratic Front (UDF) votes, he defeated Congress candidate Aryadan Mohammed in those elections, and subsequently became an asset to the CPI(M), winning thrice from Beppur in Assembly elections and once from the Manjeri Lok Sabha constituency.

More recently, as a CPI(M) Independent, K.T. Jaleel, who was earlier with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), defeated the party’s senior leader P.K. Kunhalikutty in the 2006 Assembly elections in Kuttippuram, which had always been a stronghold of the IUML.

P.T.A. Rahim, another former IUML man, too was co-opted by the CPI(M) as an Independent with success in the Koduvally Assembly constituency in 2006. They are both with the LDF in the Assembly following their success in the 2011 elections too, the former from Thavanur constituency and the latter from Kunnamangalam.

All through the history of elections in Kerala, starting from the 1957 Assembly elections in which the undivided Communist party successfully fielded stalwarts such as Joseph Mundassery, V.R. Krishna Iyer, and A.R. Menon as Independent candidates, the Left has practised this strategy in its efforts to make inroads into non-Left votes. Writer S.K. Pottekkat had both lost and won elections as Left independent candidate. Poet O.N.V. Kurup, cine actor Murali, and film director Lenin Rajendran too were fielded by the Left as independents down the line without success, while poet Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan and writer M.K. Sanoo were victorious Left candidates.

Some of these experiments that had clicked for the Left in the elections did not bring the Left any lasting advantage. One recent instance is that of Manjalamkuzhi Ali, who was fielded successfully by the CPI(M) as an independent in Mankada Assembly constituency in 2006, but drifted away from the party and is now the IUML MLA from Perinthalmanna and a Minister in the United Democratic Front government.

K.S. Manoj, a doctor by profession, who was picked by the CPI(M) from outside the party fold to help swing Latin Catholic votes in coastal Alappuzha in favour of the LDF in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections to defeat V.M. Sudheeran, a very strong Congress candidate, joined the Congress in 2010, a year after his term as an MP ended. He had cited conflicts between his religious beliefs and the CPI(M) party line as the reason for leaving.

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