Analysis | CPM plays safe, picks respected veterans over untested youth

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is flanked by C Raveendranath (left) and T M Thomas Isaac. File photo: Manorama

When the CPM State Committee firmed up the party's list of 15 Lok Sabha candidates on Wednesday what stood out was the ultra conservative nature of the selection. The bold inventiveness that normally marked the CPM's selection process was replaced by the party's immediate need to take cover behind a safety wall of minimum guarantee, mostly veteran, faces.

The list has a politburo member (A Vijayaraghavan), four central committee members (K K Shailaja, Elamaram Kareem, T M Thomas Isaac, and K Radhakrishnan), and three district secretaries (M V Balakrishnan, M V Jayarajan and V P Joy). Of these three are MLAs (Shailaja, Radhakrishnan and Joy), and Radhakrishnan is a minister, too. Actor M Mukesh, who has been picked to cut N K Premachandran to size is the fourth MLA. And in the list are three of the most popular ministers in the first Pinarayi cabinet: Shailaja, Isaac and C Raveendranath.

L-R: V Vaseef (Malappuram), T M Thomas Isaac (Pathanamthitta), M Mukesh (Kollam), Joice George (Idukki), A Vijayaraghavan (Palakkad), K J Shine (Ernakulam), M V Jayarajan (Kannur), K K Shailaja (Vadakara), Elamaram Kareem (Kozhikode), A M Arif (Alappuzha), V Joy (Attingal), M V Balakrishnan (Kasaragod), K Radhakrishnan (Alathur), C Raveendranath (Chalakudy) and K S Hamsa (Ponnani)

This reliance on tested names is a manifestation of both the CPM's lack of confidence and also its desperation to win at least half the seats on offer.

No place for young men
Except for DYFI state president V Vaseef, who has been picked for a suicide mission in Malappuram, the party has turned its back on the youth. Not even former MLA, and a popular social media presence, M Swaraj was chosen; there were talks he would be fielded from either Ernakulam or Kozhikode. The general assessment was that there were no young leaders with breakthrough potential.

V Vaseef. File photo: Manorama

The performance of young MLAs like Sachin Dev (Balussery) or M Vijin (Kalliassery) or Linto Joseph (Thiruvambady) has not inspired confidence. The CPM policy to widen its base among the youth has been given a holiday in 2024.

In 2019, for instance, the cream of the party's second generation leaders had found a place in the list: P K Biju (Alathur), M B Rajesh (Palakkad), P Rajeeve (Ernakulam), A M Arif (Alappuzha), K N Balagopal (Kollam), and V P Sanu (Malappuram). It was a bold move as the Sabarimala agitation had framed the 2019 contest in Kerala as a tradition versus modernity battle.

Most except Arif were swept away in the Congress wave. The CPM could still be proud as one of its young men, M B Rajesh, stood his ground in a highly traditional constituency like Palakkad; he lost to Congress's V K Sreekandan by a relatively low margin of 11,637 votes. Rajesh's presence had also pulled the spring out of the expected BJP surge in the constituency.

K K Shailaja. File photo: Manorama

Ladies can wait
It also looks like the CPM is not interested in even symbolically nullifying the gender advantage the BJP would claim in the name of the Women's Reservation Act, 2023.

The CPM Central Committee had wanted three women candidates this time. As it turned out there is just one: K K Shailaja, for Vadakara.

The party will also back K J Shine, a prominent Kerala School Teachers' Association (KSTA) woman leader, as its independent in Ernakulam. In 2019, the CPM had fielded two women: P K Sreemathy and Veena George.

This time winnability seems to have trumped all other considerations, especially the party's ideological necessity to be seen as pro women and youth.

Masks that inspire respect
To get a bigger say in the 18th Lok sabha, the party's sole focus seems to have been to line up popular and non-controversial faces who can distract voters from the controversies dogging the CPM.

K Radhakrishnan. File photo: Manorama

In Vadakara, for instance, Shailaja, arguably the most loved member of the first Pinarayi ministry, has been chosen to nullify the T P Chandrasekharan effect, especially after the High Court verdict that had established the involvement of local CPM leaders in the conspiracy.

Thomas Isaac, a leader as revered as Shailaja, has been brought in to wrest Pathanamthitta, a constituency with a definite Congress tilt and where the BJP has emerged as a decisive presence. Isaac is also seen as a leader who, by his very presence, could dissuade the Christian voters from placing their bets on the BJP. The constituency with seven Assembly segments of Pathanamthitta and two of Kottayam has nearly 40% Christians.

There is also an understanding within the party that Isaac's impeccable secular credentials could dilute the Hindu consolidation that has taken place in segments like Aranmula and Konni. His doer image, acquired during his stints as finance minister, is also expected to transcend political affiliations.

Minister K Radhakrishnan is the other acceptable face. He has been picked for Alathur, once a CPM citadel from where P K Biju had won twice. In 2019, Congress's Ramya Haridas had trounced Biju by 1.59 lakh votes, aided in no small measure by A Vijayaraghavan's insensitive remarks against Ramya. The CPM assessment is that Radhakrishnan can easily wrest the seat back. Radhakrishnan's Chelakkara Assembly segment also falls within the Alathur constituency.

M Mukesh. File photo: Manorama

Glamour quotient
C Raveendranath is the third respected figure from the first Pinarayi cabinet to be given a seat. The former education minister will fight for the Chalakkudy seat, a constituency that straddles Ernakulam and Thrissur and which has mostly been with the Congress. Last time the CPM had experimented with actor Innocent but Congress's Benny Behanan surpassed him by 1.32 lakh votes.

The Chalakkudy glamour experiment of 2019 will be replicated in Kolam this time. The party will field its actor MLA M Mukesh against incumbent MP N K Premachandran. The party is not sure if Mukesh is up to the task. It is also aware that Mukesh is skidding along the diminishing curve of popularity, a fact demonstrated by the photo finish in the 2021 Assembly polls.

In Ponnani, the CPM wants to exploit the growing rift in the Muslim League. Therefore, the League dissident K S Hamza has been picked for the League citadel. A strong critic of League general secretary P K Kunhalikutty, Hamza was expelled from the league in March 2023. Last time it was P V Anwar, a Congress dissident and a persistent League baiter, but he stood no chance, lost by 1.93 lakh votes to League’s E T Muhammad basheer

A Vijayaraghavan and M V Jayarajan. File photo: Manorama

Pinarayi’s men
A Vijayaraghavan (Palakkad), M V Jayarajan (Kannur), Elamaram Kareem (Kozhikode), V Joy (Attingal) and M V Balakrishnan (Kasaragod) are staunch Pinarayi loyalists and represent the flinty side of the party. Yet, Vijayaraghavan's candidature is a surprise as he had not only lost miserably in Kozhikode in 2019 but had also contributed to the party's embarrassing loss in Alathur.

This time in Kozhikode it will be Elamaram Kareem's Bolshevik sterness versus M K Raghavan's mass appeal. In Attingal it will be V Joy’s organisational acumen against Adoor Prakash’s shrewdness. And if KPCC president K Sudhakaran is made to fight once again in Kannur against his wishes, he will have in M V Jayarajan an opponent who can match him word for ear-splitting word.

CPM’s Jayarajan conundrum
Nonetheless, Jayarajan also presents a dilemma. Last time when P Jayarajan was made to contest from Vadakara, he was asked to vacate his post as Kannur district secretary. Will M V Jayarajan, too, be asked to do so?

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