Kerala National

The BJP’s roll of the caste dice adds wrinkle to grassroots battle

Failure in wate processing: Problems arising from fast-paced urbanisation specifically of solid waste management, is a major issue ahead of the Corporation eletions. Photo: H.Vibhu  

Kerala perhaps has the best track record among the Indian States in deepening democracy with grassroots level planning, creation of innovative people-reach programmes and, to top it all, elections that reflect the intense contestations for governance spaces at the lowest rung of the democratic structure. Yet another battle of the ballots is shaping up in the State, this time with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also seeking to claim its share of the poll spoils, along with the well-entrenched alliances led by the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)].

Although a majority of the local government institutions in the State are controlled by Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) at present, the upcoming elections, to be held in two stages on November 2 and 5, would be a watershed event for the CPI(M) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF). There is a looming possibility of a  caste combination being worked out by the BJP, upsetting their chances in many local bodies. This unprecedented electoral gambit of the BJP has added to the heat and intensity of the current poll battle. If the LDF fares badly, it would have a far greater impact on its already-sagging fortunes than in 2010, when, for the first time in the State’s history, the CPI(M) and its allies lost their almost hegemonic grip on a majority of local bodies to the United Democratic Front (UDF).

The BJP has been around in the poll fray in Kerala for long, with only a few occasional blips to show for its electoral relevance. Its attempt this time is to buck that dismal trend by staging in Kerala its successful experiments in building caste combinations elsewhere. It has found a ready ally in this in Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, the organisational arm of the powerful Ezhava community. Talks spread over several months have now resulted in an informal alliance, which neither openly admits to, but as part of which the two sides would support each other’s nominees in the fray. And that is a little worrying for the CPI(M) which also draws a fair amount of its support from the Ezhava community. From all available indications, the Congress and its allies are not unduly worried about the Yogam-BJP combine affecting their chances, at least in the short term, and there is therefore a strategic silence among most Congress leaders when it comes to taking on the new combination.

  • BJP, a marginal player for long, is trying to replicate the caste consolidation experiments it carried out in other States; this may upset the CPI(M)'s prospects.

The BJP-SNDP Yogam alliance is not without its flip side. The Nair community, which is as numerically strong as the Ezhavas, is not exactly happy with the development. Though Yogam general secretary Vellappalli Natesan has been speaking in terms of bringing all Hindu castes under a single umbrella, the Nair Service Society (NSS), which has as wide a presence and influence as the SNDP Yogam, has declared that it would have nothing to do with the new combination or its political agenda. 

The BJP leadership’s reluctance to publicly acknowledge the tie-up with the SNDP Yogam arises from a fear of a possible backlash from the Nairs. One key issue on which the Nair and Ezhava communities differ is also central to the BJP’s scheme of things, that of reservation. While the SNDP Yogam wants community reservation, the NSS is for economic reservation, a position that is closer to that of the BJP. The irony is unlikely to be lost on the electorate or even sections of the BJP support base given the loud posturing by Mr. Natesan on the reservation question in the past and the contradictions that are bound to emerge in the BJP-Yogam tie-up in the days to come.

The elections are also not just about the BJP or the SNDP Yogam, the impact of which would be felt more in the southern than in the northern parts of the State. There is the equally important constituency of the minority communities, who have traditionally been the backbone of the UDF, and the still fairly large political constituency which is largely divided between the UDF and the LDF. Equally important, the elections are also about the diverse innovative development initiatives undertaken by the rival political formations over the past five years and more and the big ideas that failed to get translated into successful projects and programmes. The many problems arising from fast-paced urbanisation, specifically of solid waste management, has been proving a headache for every single local body in the State. Corporations have burnt their fingers trying to set up huge waste processing units or trying to get rid of the mountains of garbage by using adjacent gram panchayats as dumping grounds. But there have also been interesting, though isolated, experiments in waste management, extension of healthcare and enhancement of farm productivity and these are certain to be as important a deciding factor as the political, religious and caste arguments.

Unlike in 2010, both the UDF and LDF have been careful to avert internal schisms over seat sharing. While the LDF has by and large succeeded in achieving this, the UDF has been having problems in certain key pockets, particularly in north Kerala. But the situation is not as bad for the UDF as last time, particularly because of a possible consolidation of minority votes. Besides the Indian Union Muslim Leagure (IUML), the main ally of the Congress, there are other significant players in the minority spectrum such as the Socialist Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Welfare Party, political arms of the Popular Front of India (PFI) and the Jama-at e Islami, whose performance could also prove decisive in several local bodies, particularly in north Kerala.

In literal terms, the contest this time is to decide who would gain control of 941 gram panchayats, six municipal corporations, 87 municipalities and 152 block panchayats. But there is more to it as the outcome of the local body elections would send out the first signals about the direction in which the political winds are blowing in the State which is headed for Assembly elections in early 2016. The UDF has been sitting pretty so far thanks to the divisions in the CPI(M) and the confusion among the LDF allies. But now that the BJP has upped its game, the UDF may have to be more watchful about how it wishes to take the game forward. It might also find matters tough now that the factions in the CPI(M) have closed ranks and there are signs of party veteran V.S. Achuthanandan once again emerging as the spearhead of the LDF’s election campaign. The CPI(M) and LDF have been quick to engage the BJP in debates over developments at the national level, particularly the killing of progressive and rationalist writers, the beef row, and much else, bringing a lot more political content into the general discourse and helping the Left to emerge as the force that is facing up o the challenge posed by the BJP in Kerala.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 10:00:02 PM |

Next Story