Kottayam: The legacy of Left wing struggles

Always in the vanguard of social reform initiatives and progressive movements, the district has a rich legacy of Left wing struggles, spearheaded by none other than the founder of communist movement in Kerala, P Krishna Pillai himself.

On the other hand, it also harbors the distinction being the fountainhead of the controversial Liberation Struggle which pulled down the first elected communist government in the world. Politics here, had clear fault lines with the geopolitics of the western paddy fields contrasting with that of the rich plantation tracts of the eastern hill ranges.

However , it appears that the synergies unleashed by coalition politics has resulted in a convergence, brining down the walls that divided the conflicting political interests.

During the 2006 Assembly elections, when a Left wave swept the State, the two major coalitions took the seats evenly. While Vaikom, Kottayam, Kanjirappally, Kaduthuruthy and Poonjar went the LDF way, the other five, Puthuppally, Pala, Ettumanur, changanassery and Vazhoor were taken by the UDF.

However, the 2009 Parliament elections saw the fortunes of the UDF changing for the better for the first time when their candidate Jose K Mani of Kerala Congress defeated the CPI(M) veteran K Suresh Kurup with a margin of 71,570 votes, thereby establishing comfortable leads even in LDF strongholds. Pathanamthitta parliament segment which shared parts of Kottayam, elected Anto Antony of Congress (I) while Mavelikkara which too had parts of Kottayam revenue district elected Kodikkunnil Suresh, also from Congress (I).

The 2010 Panchayati Raj elections further cemented the UDF lead. They took the 23-member district panchayat with a lead of 19 to three; grabbed 10 out of 11 block panchayats and established comfortable leads in more than 800 grama panchayat wards, against the 300 odd wards of the LDF, giving the UDF leaders an opportunity to claim a tectonic shift in people’s preference in their favour even at the grass roots level.

The last five years have brought about a total change in the political topography of the district. It is a string of new constituencies, masquerading in the garb of old namesakes, that await the political parties and candidates in the ensuing Assembly polls in the district, thanks to the delimitation exercise. It has not only resulted in a reduced representation for the district in the coming Assembly but also has changed the demographic profile, geo politics and even religious and communal equations of its assembly constituencies.

The district now has to satisfy itself with nine assembly segments instead of the earlier 10 as Vazhoor, represented by Kerala Congress (M), withering away under the delimitation exercise. The cascading effects of this exercise still echo within the coalitions and political parties. While this has triggered a stiff stand-off between Kerala Congress (M) and Congress (I) in the UDF in the share of seats, the LDF appears to be trying to weather the situation by a dexterous exercise in shuffling: constituencies within coalition partners and candidates within parties. The nine assembly segments left are Vaikom (SC), Kaduthuruthy, Ettumanur, Pala, Kottayam, Changanasserry, Puthuppally, Kanjirappally and Poonjar

The case of Kottayam Assembly segment, considered a Left stronghold, would bring out the complexities the delimitation exercise had brought out. The working class dominance in the segment represented by the Kumarakom and Thiruvarpu panchayats has been lost to neighbouring Ettumanur segment. Instead, Kottayam will now get Panachikkad and Vijayapuram panchayts in addition to Kottayam Municipal area.

Compounding the complexities, two other grama panchayats, Kumaranllore and Nattakom have been added to the municipal area.

The working class dominance in the paddy cultivating areas would now be swapped with the politics of rubber tracts giving a pivotal role for the middle class and trading community in deciding the outcome.

The religious profile has now shifted in favour of Nair and Christian communities.

Parts of the now extinct Vazhoor segment has been given to the Kanjirappally constituency while Parathode, Koruthode, Mundakkayam and Erumeli grama panchayats from former Kanjirappally segment has gone to the new Poonjar segment. While the confusion over the changes are still going on in the UDF, the CPI(M) may tide over the situation by shifting the sitting Kanjirapplly MLA Alphonse Kannamthanam to Poonjar and handing over the Kanjirppally segment to coalition partner CPI.

However, constituencies like Kaduthuruthy which has lost the Kallara panchayat to Vaikom, and gained Marangattupally, Uzhavoor and Veliyannur panchayats from Pala have become more homogenous, it is pointed out. Same is the case with Pala, which has gained Moonnilavu, Thalanadu, Thalappalam, Melukavu, Bharananganam, and Kadanad.

Elikkulam panchayat from Kanjirappally has also joined Pala.

For the first time, the district stands the chance of electing a prospective chief minister candidate in Oommen Chandy. Last time, though he became a Chief Minister, it was not a prospect during the elections, the campaign of which was led by A K Antony.

The district, home turf to Kerala Congress politics, is not new to the recurring splits and mergers among the factions. However, the split in the Kerala Congress (Joseph) and the resultant merger between the dominant group with the KC (Mani) just before the 2010 local bodies elections, appears to have set off a complex web of political developments.

The immediate result was a politically revitalized K M Mani, a formidable challenge to coalition partners and opponents alike even at his weakest. This resulted in a series of ‘friendly contests’ with Congress during the local bodies elections, but did not deter him claiming the victory for his own party when the UDF swept the elections. The issue got complicated as both the two partners shared the same vote base in the Central Travancore belt where the number of seats have come down by five.

On the other hand, the CPI(M) has to content with weak partners. While the situation would help them to keep the cohesiveness of the coalition and carry out seat sharing exercise with relative ease, this may force the party to shoulder the responsibility of running the campaign all by itself. Leaders however point out that the efficiency in campaign was the key to electoral victory.

The high level of penetration of civil society institutions especially, religious institutions and social organisation, add a new dimension to the agenda setting and vote mobilizing exercise in the district.

Interestingly almost all the social organizations which had earlier sided with any one of the political Front, have now become fans of the policy of equidistance since this would give them more leverage during political bargains. Against this backdrop, a leaner and more efficient party machinery combined with a dynamic political outlook may be a better choice than a flabby, incoherent coalition, it is pointed out.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 9:05:12 PM |

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