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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 17 New Delhi April 16, 2016

Reading the Triumph of the Left in Kerala and Apprehensions for the Future / Kerala’s Local Body Elections, 2015: An Analysis

Friday 15 April 2016


The following two articles reached us quite sometime back but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons. There are now being published before the Kerala Assembly elections.

Reading the Triumph of the Left in Kerala and Apprehensions for the Future

by Suresh Jnaneswaran

The triumph of the Left in Kerala at the local body elections comes with many charms. The campaign at the hustings was led from the front by a ninetytwo-year-old Communist revolutionary, unparalleled in history, still going strong in his crusade against communalism and corruption. It brought back nostalgic memories of an era when communism was in the air and idealism and ideology united the comrades in their fight against feudalism and colonialism. The masses then stood divided, oppressed, exploited and humiliated beyond imagination. Religion, Brahmanical Hinduism, was said to be the core of the ritualistic ostracising venality. Like its Temples, it was not a mere spiritual symbol but a socio-psychological, politico-economic and cultural architecture defying spatio-temporal destruction. Social reform movements, colonial interventions and Commu-nists in their ingenious manner fought and generated a counter-hegemonic philosophy and praxis to extirpate this hydra-headed manifestation.

The anti-colonial struggles of the pre-indepen-dence era in Kerala had a Communist content far greater than all the other participant anti-imperialist organisations put together. This gave the land and its people a persona that had become part of folklore and romance. A very small chunk of this romance was recreated during the united Left campaign that had acquired an urgency—‘a do or die’ campaign to dam the entry of communal forces into the citadel of the Left. The battle at the hustings has been won but the war rages on, communalism like a bruised tiger is at the door. What can the mainstream secular forces do? The realisation of the danger, its agency and nature have to be identified, isolated and damned.

The defeat of the communal forces no doubt is exhilarating and soothing, for all communal forces by their negation erode democratic ideals. Their inherent values of exclusion are detri-mental to a pluralist culture that India represents. Tolerance and accommodativeness towards these forces betray feudal aspirations and longing for a historically discarded sociological garbage anchored in myriad inequities and undemocratic ethos.

It is a historical and political verity that in Kerala, the Muslim League of all hues along with the Kerala Congress, practitioners of camouflaged communalism, are dangerous to democracy and values of secularism as much as the Hindutva elements. These political organi-sations in various crass and subtle ways have toxified the secular political space of Kerala and facilitated the swelling of the Hindutva brigade. If the Muslim League, et al.and the many Kerala Congress parties have any claims to secularism, they should disband and give unto themselves a secular image either by gluing to or joining a secular democratic party of their choice in their respective coalitions, or give up their overt and covert communal and regional identities. The practice of spiritual and religious patriarchs determining their policies at the apex and masquerading as the ultimate high command has to be abandoned. The rationalising secular rodomontade that they indulge in, along with the endorsement of their allies, is only the chicanery of the power-hungry out to destroy democracy.

The Left forces, more discerning and critically conscious, in theory at least, should show the way with the INC following suit if they are serious of extirpating communalism from Kerala. These parties should insist that the communal organisations, with miniscule but decisive vote banks, strutting around as allies, abandon their hypocrisy in word, deed and semantic nomen-clature and submerge their identities and culture with the secular mainstream. It is not as if the devout Hindu, Muslim or Christian is uncom-fortable or less successful in the secular political front. A political party’s name, ideology, slogan, geographical space and membership betray its culture and identity more forcefully than the overt propaganda.

The only way of extirpating the anchoring of religious fundamentalism and its concomitant venality in Kerala is the lobotomising of the communal allies within the UDF and LDF. The gravest crime committed by mainstream secular parties against the Kerala society is their readiness to ally with micro- and regional communalism that legitimises the latter, for concerns of power of the former. Fundamental changes imbued with sincere desire demands a fundamental metamorphosis in the perception of the secular parties in the quest for power to dam the deluge of the communal culture in all its imbricated ramifications.

Today it is largely the upper-caste Hindu and the lumpen periphery enamoured with the Khaki shorts that have a penchant for the BJP and its primitive praxis. However, in due course with the power base expanding and progressive, conscious Left leadership in the form of upper-caste comrades dwindling, the Left will find it difficult to stem the gluing of upper-caste aspirations with the BJP and the intermediary classes following suit. Jawaharlal Nehru, Jaya-prakash Narayan, Rammanohar Lohia, et al. were aware of this grave possibility with the weakening of the secular forces.

The causality will come in the form of these majority elements abandoning the Congress more than the Left in Kerala as the former is not sanitised by the ideological shield of equality and revolutionary socialism. The indoctrinated ideological base of the Left has to be assiduously cultivated and expanded to prevent a political cul-de-sac. The comrades require power for the consummation of their ideological dreams no doubt, but ambitions of power at the expense of ideological permeation have to be eschewed. Infightings for positions of power are not only a negation of the basics of Marxism-Leninism but also a manifestation of the abnegation of the ideological space to power and petit bourgeois influences ultimately culminating in the annihilation of ideology and mass aspirations.

The moment you start appeasing caste and communal forces you begin the process of your egregious self-destruction. Hydra-headed forces of reaction have a method of devouring the ideologies of secular parties and reducing them to their status vis-a-vis community and caste. The same can be said about corruption and corporate alliances. There are umpteen instances of these interventions in the pre-independent Congress movement and post-independent era.

Modernity extirpating communalism has become a myth in spite of the plethora of theories and Jurgen Habermas conceding to the inevitability of religious domination in the world of rationality and sciences. The overwhelming fact has been that secular forces have at times in their unsatiated hunger for power and aggrandisement used the machinery and culture of religion to Botox its organisational gluing and immense possibility of using violence for intimidation and annihilation as borne out by history. Religion and power and its pursuit are a devastating cocktail as people tend to cling on to their primitive identities and territories in spite of modernity and transitions in habitus and life-styles. The failure of Gandhiji and many before him lay in the premise that in spite of their political sagacity they gave space to religion and idealised it. This legitimacy proved calamitous to the country in its march towards independence and modernity. Religion has its merit and humaneness only when divorced from power and material gains. That was the climacteric quintessential beauty of Hinduism—negation of power and abnegation. Religion in pursuit of power has throughout history been divisive and destructive, wrecking havoc across continents.

The hypocrisy of the mainstream secular parties in Kerala has penalised and betrayed the aspirations and dreams of its people. This impacts not only the minority religions of the country but also the intermediary castes and Dalits within the fold of Hinduism. In contem-porary Kerala it is not the upper-caste Hindus who keep alive caste disparities but the minority religions functioning as political organisations—IUML, Kerala Congress, et al.—that indirectly, through their activities, impact Hindu commu-nalism and the raison d’être for its existence. All these may appear fallacious to the undiscerning but an objective analysis would prove the appositeness of the averments garnered through exhaustive oral history sourcing.

‘Political analysis without historical pers-pective is as barren as sociological theorising without psychological illumination’ and no discipline teaches you more about the use and disuse of power than History does. Kerala as an avant-garde State has to light up the future by shedding its politico-cultural hypocrisy. Communal parties of all hues should be jettisoned and given the option of either submerging their communal identities or existing as communal organisations on their own for the Kerala society and politics to endorse or discard. Political power is profoundly sensitive to religio-cultural nuances and decisively determines the course of political decision-making and consummation. Power differs from culture to culture even though political theories down to Robert Dahl, Daniel Bell, Samuel Huntington, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault have generally conceived of power as universal phenomena. However, the reality is that it differs profoundly from culture to culture. Power has always been sensitive to cultural subtleties and concomitant religious imbri-cations. Parochialism of culture, most often, happens to be the most sensitive and handy attribute of the politician.

The broad-based resistance against intole-rance and communal fanaticism has come how-ever, not from political parties but from the litterateur and cogitating minds. This by itself is heartening and a sign that the soul of the land still throbs with humanism and egalitarianism.

Professor Suresh Jnaneswaran is the Director, School of Social Sciences, University of Kerala, Thiruvanan-thapuram. He can be contacted at e-mail: dr.sureshj-naneswaran@gmail.com

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Kerala’s Local Body Elections, 2015: An Analysis

by S. Mohammed Irshad

Elections are a part of parliamentary democracy. Once elected, every member becomes a part of the ruling elite. Despite all its defects, people still prefer democracy over any other system. The 2015 local body election results in Kerala provide a critical insight into the functioning of the democratic system. It was a straight fight between the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

The LDF scored a significant majority in the panchayats, municipalities and corporations. It followed the usual pattern of an LDF victory after a UDF one. The election results and the media analysis corroborate this pattern. But the 2015 local body elections pose some critical questions about the behaviour of the electorate. The present study focuses on three interesting aspects of these elections.

Unlike in the past, this time the BJP registered remarkable electoral successes. The BJP has emerged as an Opposition party in the Thiruvanathapuram city corporation. This gives more visibility to the party in Kerala than ever before. The campaign of the BJP was largely centred on the economic prosperity and public participation of Muslims. The Indian Union Muslim League’s participation in the UDF was articulated as the presence of a ‘threat’. It put the Muslim League on the defensive, though the ML did not touch any minority issue in the election and even fielded non-Muslims as candidates. It is perhaps the first time in Kerala that the ‘Muslim threat’ was sought to be projected as a visible one.

On top of it the Hindu middle caste organi-sation, Sree Narayan Dharma Paripalan Yogam (SNDP), leaders’ open support to the BJP also helped the masses to believe in the threat. However, the most important beneficiary of the Islamic threat is the Left parties. The beef festivals conducted by the Left parties when the Muslim League and Muslim organisations kept them-selves away from such demonstrations really helped the Left parties to consolidate Muslim votes and secular voters in a big way.

Space for Identity Politics

The Left parties have a clear ideological position against identity politics. Their opposition is more against Dalit and Adivasi identity politics and other issue-based movements. The politics of opposition to Dalits and Adivasi movements arises from the failure of the parties to articulate the problems of the communities within the party. The issue-based movements equally challenged the Left parties’ ideological opposition to privatisation and liberalisation of the economy. The inability to provide an argument against the capitalists’ exploitation of Nature, also weakens the Left parties opposition to the movement to protect environment.

Too much of ‘statism’ is the biggest impedi-ment of the Left to reach out to such movements. However, the campaign based on Muslim’s religious identity invariably questioned the established position of the Left parties towards identity politics. It forced the party to support Muslim identity politics for the vote-bank.

Apart from the Left parties the other two Muslim parties also achieved remarkable successes. The Welfare Party of Jamat-e-Islami and Social Democratic Party of India, formed by the Popular Front of India, also tried their luck. Unlike the Muslim League, the Welfare Party is quite active in critiquing the statist approach of the mainstream political parties, especially the Left parities. The Welfare Party’s articulation of issues is based on identity politics and criticism of the state. Its appeal is often more powerful than that of the Left parties.

It is the second time that they tried their luck in the local body elections. In 2010, they fielded candidates under the banner of the Development Front and won less than ten seats. This time the number has increased. The campaign also put less emphasis on Muslims and more on ‘local development’.

The SDPI’s campaign was more on the ‘threat to Muslims’. The national debate on Pakistan, beef and population growth of Muslims contributed to the success of the Left parties, and other champions of Muslim identity politics. But the issue has its own negative features and consequences, especially as it restricts the entry of the Muslims to mainstream politics. Also it sidelines the real problem of Muslims as a poor section of the society. However, the ‘electoral space’ which the Muslims get is not available to the Dalits and Adivasis..

Excluding Dalits and Adivasis

Muslim dentity politics got wider visibility in the elections. But Dalit and Adivasi identity politics could not get the same extent of visibility. The Dalit and Adivasi movements are quite active in Kerala. The Adivasi Gothramasabha is a tribal movement which was instrumental in the 2000 tribal land struggle that started the movement for ‘land for the landless’ Adivasis. The movement and its leaders could articulate the Adivasi issues with much more clarity and acceptance than any other political party in Kerala.

The struggle initiated by the Adivai Gothramasabha was instrumental in spending the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) money effectively. It forced the government to spend Rs 42 crores from the TSP fund to buy 12,000 acres of farm land owned by the Farming Corporation of India. Half of the farm land was distributed among the landless Adivasi communities. Everybody accepts that it was the Adivasi Gothramasabha which was instrumental in distributing the land.

However, this acceptance did not convert into votes for the Adivasi Gothramahasabha candidates. In power politics, the voters favour the mainstream political parties. This is also due to the tendency of excluding Adivasi politics from mainstream politics. An Adivasi can win an election if she or he belongs to any major political party and it is true that mainstream political parties seldom articulate the Adivasi issues in the manner in which the Gothramaha-sabha articulates.

This is applicable to Dalit politics as well. For instance, Ms Girija, a committed social worker in Kasargode district, contested on the Dalit Samrakshna Samithi ticket in block panchyat polls but she was sidelined. She is quite active in community mobilisation and educational support to Dalit and adivasi children. But such work did not help her to win an election.

 All six candidates who contested under the Adivasi Gothramasabha banner got less than 100 votes. These candidates belonged to the depressed sections and had a commitment to their cause. It is a fact that even the presence of an adivasi woman as the State Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Welfare Minister could not stop the death due to malnutrition of adivasi children and atrocities against Dalits and adivasis. That shows the unimportance of Adivasi and Dalit politics in the State.

The Minister had to work within the existing power relations which have no room for the depressed sections’ specific issues such as land rights and other matters of social justice. The Minister has no power except to provide the minimum general support to the adivasis such as rice for one rupee etc. So, a movement and its candidates articulating larger adivasi and Dalit issues would definitely disturb the public. This is quite evident in the case of another Panchayat, where the people do accept a dominant force and ideology. The case of Kizhakambalam, where a private company captured power democratically, strengthens the aforesaid argument.

Company Rule and Democracy

The Kizhakkambalam Panchyat experienced a new form of political alliance. The alliance has been named after the popular cricket format Twenty-20. This Twenty-20 alliance was initiated by a private business group, Anna Aluminum Company, and its sister concern, Kittex Cloth manufacturing company. It is one of the largest business houses in Kerala.

Prior to the election, the company started a general store which sells commodities at a price less than the market price by spending their corporate social responsibility fund. It functions even better than ration shops; hence it is obvious that it can attract larger public support than any other initiative. The Twenty-20 alliance was a result of this corporate initiative and it got wide mass support. The corruption and nepotism of political parties also created favourable conditions for them to win public support. The local people were in search of an alternative to political parties and the company offered them one.

The Twenty-20 alliance won 17 out of 19 seats and is now ruling the Panchayat. The success of Twenty-20 could be attributed to the failure of conventional political activism and the success of transparent administration. Twenty-20 followed these norms and hence the capital interest of the company could be getting a better deal from the administration. The faith the people had on a private company could be attributed to the corruption and nepotism of the political parties. As a business house the company cannot compromise its interest and in such a scenario the best deal is to create a political rationale based on market rationality. It is too difficult to run a government in such a case, so the market rationality would determine the future of this experience. The governance of the Panchayat would be both choice-driven and demand-driven.

 The interesting aspect of all these experiences is that the people have accepted an alliance based on a company’s interest. However, such public concern was missing in the case of Dalit and Adivasi candidates. A company’s articu-lation of development and transparency got accepted but the voter preferred to keep the Dalit and Adivasi candidates out of power. Twenty-20 also prefers not to raise critical questions on social justice but articulate issues from the perspective of corporate social responsi-bility.

 In the whole process one can read the politics of exclusion and inclusion of the market in the public sphere and also the changing mode of identity politics. The result is that basic issues are sidetracked in electoral politics.

Dr S. Mohammed Irshad is an Assistant Professor, Jamsetji Tata School of Disaster Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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