May 09, 2021

Kerala: A Significant Victory

THE Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala has been re-elected to office with a big mandate. This is a significant election in many respects.

The first significant aspect of the election is that this is the first time after 1977 that an incumbent government has been re-elected in Kerala.

No Left-led government previous to the present one has been re-elected in the state. The first ministry to be formed by the Communist Party in Kerala was in 1957. It was the first elected government after the establishment of the modern State of Kerala and was led by E M S Namboodiripad. This government was dismissed by the centre after 29 months. The 1967 Left-led United Front Government could also not complete its full term. The government led by E K Nayanar, formed after the 1980 election, was also short-lived. The 1987, 1996, and 2006 LDF governments completed their full terms but were not re-elected. In a historic break from this pattern, the Pinarayi Vijayan government elected in 2016 has now won a mandate for a second term.

The second significant feature of this election is that the LDF government has been re-elected with a bigger mandate than in the preceding election. The LDF, which won 91 out of 140 seats in 2016, won 99 out of 140 seats in this election. This is about 71 per cent of all seats, well over a two-thirds majority. Moreover, the LDF has gained popular support: it polled 45.3 per cent of the vote in 2021, as against 43.3 per cent in 2016. The LDF has got increased support from all sections of the population – the basic classes in society, women, youth, dalits and people of religious minorities. The scale of the victory would have been even bigger had the BJP and Congress not traded votes. In at least ten seats, the UDF won by votes transferred from the BJP.

The third significant aspect of the election is that the model of development, informed by the Left vision of a planned economy, that was implemented by the LDF government has found wide acceptance among the people.

The LDF government was the only state government in India to continue with the process of ‘five-year plans’ and ‘annual plans’ after the abolition of the Planning Commission by the government of India. It fashioned a policy framework that built on and strengthened the state’s heritage of social development, particularly in public education, public health, social welfare, and social justice. The government decided that while strengthening the achievements of the state in these spheres in human development, it would use these achievements as a foundation on which to create new employment opportunities, particularly for youth, and to build infrastructure. Strengthening the public education and public health systems, in the face of the privatisation drive with respect to these sectors in the country as a whole, was remarkable. Given the severe resource constraints faced by the state government, the way the LDF government raised resources and deployed them through an agency like KIIFB(Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board) for infrastructure development was noteworthy.

Another distinctive feature of development policy was the part played by people’s participation in the planning and development process, and the role of the local government bodies in development. Kudumbashree women’s groups, for example, played a key role in income-bearing activities in the State.

The LDF government’s tenure was marked by a firm adherence to secularism and an uncompromising stance against all communal forces.

Finally, the way the Pinarayi Vijayan government tackled the successive crises that hit the state – cyclone Ockhi in 2017, extreme rainfall events followed by floods and mudslides in 2018 and 2019, the Nipah virus disease in 2018, and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21 -- show a different mettle and quality of governance. As far as the people are concerned, the test of a government is how effectively it tackles a crisis that affects their lives and livelihood. The LDF government passed this test with flying colours.

The LDF fought the elections against the Congress-led UDF and the BJP. Both these forces had mounted a concerted and virulent campaign of false allegations against the LDF government. All sorts of unscrupulous efforts were made, including the use of central investigation agencies, to discredit the government and the CPI(M) in particular.

The UDF, which began as an anti-Left combination in 1980, has now reached a political dead-end. The BJP, which made tall claims and deployed huge amounts of money, has experienced the mortification of seeing the only seat it had being won by a CPI(M) candidate.

There is an effort by sections of the media and some political commentators to reduce this historic victory solely to the personality and role of Pinarayi Vijayan. According to them, it is the emergence of a “supreme leader” or “strong man” that was the main reason for the electoral success of the LDF. They claim that one man dominates the government and Party.

There is no doubt that Pinarayi Vijayan, as chief minister, set a new standard in providing political guidance to policy-making, always keeping the people’s interests in mind and displaying administrative ability in getting policies implemented. Nevertheless, the victory is the result of both individual and collective efforts. As far as the CPI(M) and the LDF are concerned, the incoming ministry will continue the tradition of collective work and individual responsibility.

It was in a very adverse political climate that the LDF government had to function over the past five years. The rightwing offensive built up throughout the country, the Left had lost in its bastions of West Bengal and Tripura, and the representation of the Left was at its lowest in Parliament. Rightwing and anti-Communist forces virtually laid siege to the government in the last year of its term. But the LDF government persevered in implementing its pro-people development programmes.

The re-election of the LDF government is a timely reminder of the relevance of the Left in the country today. The policies of the government represent the most important alternative in the country to the neoliberal Hindutva regime.

The new LDF government will have the good wishes and support of all democratic and secular forces in the country as it goes about fulfilling the people’s aspirations and making Kerala a better society.
(May 5, 2021)