That is the irony of Kerala. Always it takes a different line from that of the rest of India. Within weeks of the debacle in Pala, Congress leaders have again managed it: they scored self goals. In Pala overconfidence and failure to patch up differences within the constituents of the Front and inabiity to lead the front that are expected of a leading party, the Congress failed. The party veterans failed to carry their party men together and resolve petty feuds and lead their own party. Petty men were more concerned with settling scores within the party than to work for the success of the party and the United Front.
The LDF, of course, is making all sorts of claims about endorsement of the policies of the state government by the people, its firm stand against casteist and communal forces while explaining the success of party candidates in Vattiyurkkavu and Konni. The reality is that the Congressmen failed to wake up and work, even after the Pala debacle and made it an occasion to settle old feuds and personal animosities within the party!
Sad for the Congress which performed better in the Northern states, where the party showed signs of revival and the spirit to take on the BJP with determination. Primarily in Maharashtra and Haryana it defied all predictions and calculations and put up a good fight. Another good performance was in Gujarat where the party won three seats in the by polls to six assembly seats. In the citadel of Modi-Shah it wrested a seat from the BJP. The Congress MLAs who moved to the BJP, Alpesh Thakur and Dhavalsinh Zala, and contested on BJP tickets, lost. Congress wrested back its traditional Jhabua assembly from the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. It won 3 seats in Punjab and one seat each in Puducherry and Bihar. Over all, it is in a better position which indicates that the Congress is no more in a crestfallen state in the North.
Before examining the results in the Congress, the admirable win of Shanimol Usman in Aroor needs special mention. She stormed successfully into the red fort of Kerala, held on by the Left for decades. Shanimol who had bad luck in the electoral fray for some time put up a determined fight ably supported by the Congress members. It is a clear proof that the Congress well supported by the UDF constituents can even take on the Left in its strong holds. Of course the CPIM, including its veterans, preferred to give the ‘credit for the failure’ to its mouthy in the area, who incidentally is a state minister. Perhaps that was to shift the blame and cover the failures of the party for the major setback in its pocket borough.
But it was in Kerala that the Congress expected to perform the best. It lost two seats held by the Congress – Vattiyurkkavu and Konni – considered sure seats. The expectation was based on the ground level realities. The LDF government had not performed so well to wrest the Congress seats. Till candidates were announced by the party, none expected that these seats would be gifted to the LDF. But in Kerala where ’gifting’ has becoming a favourite pass time of some leaders including the latest gifting of pass marks in Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, it seems that Congressmen preferred to gift these constituencies to their traditional rivals than to the party colleagues, who are in rival camps within the party. It may sound incredible, but true.
Incredible because till now Congress members were known for religiously pressing the button for the party candidates, whatever be the differences on his candidature. Before the announcement of the candidate by the party high command there would be sharp differences and each faction leader arguing in rage for his candidature. They make a political pilgrimage to New Delhi to plead before the presiding deity of the party. But normally they don’t get entry near the sanctum sanctorum so they pray outside the sanctum and try to plead the case of their candidates and merits as well as the demerits of others in the list recommended by the Kerala PCC. They also meet the office bearers who matter in the AICC headquarters hoping that they may pass on the merits of their candidates to the presiding deity. But once the presiding deity decides, all Congressmen accept the decision and move to their constituencies to work for the party candidates.
This time, however, at least in these two constituencies Congressmen chose to depart from the traditional methods and violated discipline. In Konni its MP chose to carry on the fight and did not hide his hurt feelings and took on the DCC chief for the developments. In Vattiyurkkavu, its earlier incumbent, had reservations about the chosen candidate but accepted the high command’s decision and was in the campaign in right earnest, following the traditional path of the disciplined Congress leaders. Yet a section of the cadres failed to be active in the campaign. The fact is that in both the constituencies it is the Congress members who were mainly responsible for the ignominious defeat of their candidates. Of course, the merits of the Left candidate in Vattiyurkkavu, a popular young man known for his good work in the constituency particularly during the recent floods, helped in his good performance. The huge loss of votes by BJP candidate and a similar increase in the votes of LDF candidate make some suspect vote gift by the BJP to LDF, citing some of the quid pro quo deals between the traditional rivals a la President Trump pattern.
But one fact cannot be ignored. The weakening of the high command has made an impact on the KPCC. With Rahul Gandhi deserting the post without making any alternate arrangements and Sonia Gandhi in spite of poor health accepting it on a temporary basis, as well as Congress at central level informally getting divided with Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka loyalists, some veterans in Kerala do not extend the normal respect to the high command and work within party discipline hitherto observed. Petty feuds have made these senior leaders become petty men with petty minds and mainly look for the aggrandizement of their groups and not the strengthening of the party.
One may detect many reasons for the resounding victory of LDF candidates in these two constituencies, but primarily it is the Congressmen who have defeated their own candidates. Petty feuds turned anger made them to gift votes to traditional rivals. At a time when Congress party with a weak organizational set up and slender resources in the North try to regroup and put up a fight against the BJP, the well organized KPCC with reasonable resources took a different line this time, basically trying to score self goals.
If not acted upon by the high command, it can adversely affect the Congress in the state. For BJP’s strategist Amit Shah may step in with a bag full of gifts. Some Congress leaders having enjoyed proximity to power for long are feeling lost these days having lost power in the State and at the Centre. If they start looking at Modiji with a positive frame of mind and dream of the rewards waiting, none need to be surprised. Some of these are petty men, with petty minds and guided by petty feuds. In political parties too like in the human body cutting off malignant growth early can ensure a long and healthy life.