Vol. XLIII No. 17 April 28, 2019

Election Campaign in Kerala – Living Mass Contact

R Arun Kumar

KERALA voted on April 23 to elect its 20 representatives, as part of the seven-phase general elections to the parliament. The CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front (LDF) is leading the fight against both the Congress led UDF and the BJP in these elections. The strong presence of the CPI(M) and the Left in the state has ensured that the election campaigning in the state is intensely political. However hard the BJP tried to raise the issues of ‘faith’ and divide the people on the basis of their religious identity, the campaigning centred on the good work done by the LDF government and the alternative policies it had been pursuing in the state.

The contrast between Kerala’s LDF government and the BJP government at the centre and the previous Congress led UDF government, is clearly visible to the people of Kerala. While the LDF has been reviving public sector units and turning them into profit making ventures, the BJP entral government is pushing the public sector enterprises towards loses, closure and privatisation. While the LDF government is ensuring that agricultural workers are paid minimum wages, farmers are protected from vagaries of market and nature, the BJP government at the centre is leaving them to the mercies of market and nature and pushing them towards distress suicides.

The pensions distributed by the LDF government are miles ahead of any related scheme of the BJP central government because of their regularity and also the amount that is being distributed. In a word, the pro-people developmental activities undertaken by the LDF government stand in complete contrast to the anti-people regressive policies pursued by the BJP central government. The people of Kerala have well understood this glaring contrast.

In fact, the crowning achievement of the LDF government has been the way it had led the relief and rehabilitation work after the devastating floods that had wreaked havoc in Kerala, last year. The work of the LDF was acknowledged and appreciated by the people. Moreover, they can never forget the discriminating attitude of the BJP government that had denied the required assistance to rebuild Kerala. They still remember the effects of demonetisation and the GST on Kerala society. All these factors are going to find a reflection in these elections.

Both the BJP and Congress have got nothing in their hands to either criticise the LDF government or propose alternate policies. It is for this reason they are turning to spread all sorts of canards. The well-oiled organisational machinery and efficient cadre of the CPI(M) are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that all the rumours and lies spread by the BJP and Congress are effectively countered. All the members of the Party, right from the Polit Bureau members to the local branch members, are actively engaged in this political fight.

A typical day in the election campaigning in Kerala starts with the squad members of a particular booth assembling and deciding on the houses they are going to visit that day. Usually, there are around 5-10 squads for every booth, depending on the strength of the Party in that particular area. The members of the squad take the political message of the CPI(M) to these households and have discussions with them on the issues they are facing, explain the initiatives of the LDF government and also critically expose the anti-people policies pursued by both the BJP and Congress. The performance report of the three years of the LDF government is placed before the people and their points of criticism and suggestions are noted. In the second round, the letter from the convenor of the LDF is taken to the people and its contents are discussed. Various Party leaflets and booklets exposing the policies of the BJP and the Congress are similarly taken to the people and the important points in them are explained. This is usually followed by a brochure detailing the local issues and the development work undertaken by the LDF representatives elected from that particular area. This is followed by a brochure introducing the candidate and a personal appeal requesting the people to vote for the LDF. All these together make it four to five rounds of house visits undertaken by the squads explaining the policies and politics of the LDF and exposing the Congress and BJP. This is apart from the ‘regular electoral work’ like verification of voter lists, helping the voters with such details as their voting booth and other things. As all the squad members are residents of the same locality, their knowledge of the locality and the people residing in it immensely helps them in this entire campaign period.

Apart from these house visits, there is a meeting organised of households residing in a particular street or an area within a booth. All the booth committees organise many such meetings. These meetings are usually organised in the houses of one of the Party members or a sympathiser residing in that area. So, it usually turns out to be a family get-together. In these family get-togethers, a leader from the local committee or the area committee visits and leads the discussions with the family members. The questions and doubts raised are answered by the leaders attending these get-togethers. After the completion of such family get-togethers within a stipulated time, village level or ward level rallies are organised, followed by small public meetings. Leaders from the district and state committees attend these meetings.

These are interspersed with big public meetings organised at the area level and constituency level, which are usually addressed by the Party Polit Bureau members. Even the huge meetings addressed by Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala and Polit Bureau member, are attended by people of that particular constituency or area and never are people mobilised from other regions. It is through such an intense campaign that the voice of the Party is ensured to reach more or less all the people in the state.

Apart from the meetings addressed by the Party leaders, the candidates have a hectic schedule. They not only have to cover the entire constituency and meet people, but also address various rallies, which range from street corner meetings to huge public meetings. They also lead roadshows in all villages and towns that are part of their constituency. Apart from this, they are expected to meet the demands of the media and interact with it. It is common to find in many areas, the LDF candidates recognising people, calling them by their names and interacting with them. This is because of the mass connect that the Party has with the people. Many people also immediately connect and identify with the candidate as they have personally witnessed their work and the role they had played in various struggles conducted by the Party.

The mass connect of the Party in Kerala is not only due to continuously taking up peoples’ issues and conducting struggles over them. That apart, the Party ensures that it is there for the people and with them during all their sunny and rainy days. There are many social activities conducted by the Party and its mass organisations through various trusts and charitable organisations. For example, in Perintalmanna in Mallapurram district, where the Party is relatively weak, compared to the other districts in the state, it is undertaking many such activities. For the past seven years, free breakfast is provided to the patients and attendants in the district government hospital. Every day, free lunch is also given in that hospital. Every day, one local committee of the youth organisation is assigned the responsibility for the distribution of supplying free lunch. They get the food cooked involving the people residing in their locality, bring it to the hospital and distribute. Every day one comrade from that locality also donates blood in that hospital. These kinds of activities are continuing uninterrupted for days together in many areas across the state.

Similarly the concept of organic farming has been extensively encouraged by the Party in various towns and villages across the state. Environmental friendly policies are promoted. The cadre of the Party not only campaign for such policies, but also lead in their implementation. Eco-friendly pens, which have seeds in them are distributed extensively to the students, who can use the pen and after its use, can throw it away in any open space, enabling the seeds packed in the pen to sprout. Lakhs of such pens are distributed in Perintalmanna town by our cadre and these initiatives are well received by the people.

Palliative care centres, ambulance services, education assistance, help in the construction of houses, running of schools, cultural activities and involvement in many such activities undertaken by the Party in various parts of the state are endearing them to the people. Party cadres  move among people, as part of their routine during the course of implementing these various initiatives.

This constant, ‘being among the people’, has got an additional advantage. Not only are the cadre able to understand the issues and problems confronting the people in their locality, they are also able to counter the campaign of parties like the Congress or the BJP. Moreover, the people also develop confidence on the Party cadre and openly discuss various issues with them, including their mistakes. Many a times, based on such close interaction with the people, the Party was able to identify those people who are trying to use the Party’s name and its presence in government for their own personal benefits and act against them. Such decisive actions have also improved the credibility of the Party among the people.

The present election campaign reflects the growing acceptance of the Party and its credibility among the people. This acceptance and credibility was won by the cadre of the Party through their hard work among the people. The politics of the Party are gaining acceptance because of its practice, both as the leader of the LDF government and also because of its mass connect. It is through this mass connect that the Party is also able to expose both the BJP and the Congress in these elections and further strengthen its base.