The Congress got a battering in the Kerala assembly polls primarily because it suffered from a credibility and perception crisis.
It looked like a regressive force standing in the way of the Left front's perceived progressive march, which the voters looked upon as an antithesis to the Sangh Parivar's divisive politics.
The Left front, especially the CPM, could project itself as a party of the present whereas the Congress seemed stuck in the pages of an age-old playbook.
The CPM marshalled all its forces behind Pinarayi Vijayan while the Congress leadership looked confused.
Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala tried his best to corner the government over a series of charges, but he lacked clarity.
His camp lacked the resources to take on CPM's troll army. The party hierarchy did not seem to defend the opposition leader. Oommen Chandy was pitchforked into the scene at the last minute with much fanfare. Chandy, troubled by his age and ill-health, couldn't do any magic. The party came up with an almost impressive candidates' list, but it was too late. It proposed to implement a manifesto, deeply rooted in the principles of social democracy. However, a bill proposing to protect the customs of the Sabarimala temple overshadowed it.
The Chandy-Chennithala unity, negotiated by the central leadership, might have energised the party camp as was evident from the party rallies. However, they failed to infuse any confidence in the voters outside the alliance spectrum.
Mullappally Ramachandran, the accidental KPCC president, meanwhile stood as a mute spectator. He spoke in the language of “another universe”. The trio could have given the benefit of doubt even if the front managed to reach close to the magic number.
If Pinarayi had managed only to scrape through, the Congress leaders could have put the blame on the pandemic and the unprecedented socio-political situation caused by it.
That's not the case. Pinarayi has not only retained power, but has improved his front's tally. It's time for the Congress' senior leaders to take rest. Your strategies have been tested and failed.
It's anybody's guess that only a generational shift can now save the Congress in Kerala. And that should begin on the floor of the Assembly. Ideally, it should happen at all levels of the party, but it would not be easy even in the aftermath of a rout. But it can be in the parliamentary party.
All eyes are on who would be the next Leader of the Opposition when Pinarayi Vijayan 2.0 is all set to start from where it stopped. Of the 21 Congress MLAs, V D Satheesan seems to be the best bet, if Chennithala shows the political acumen to vacate the chair for the next generation.
Satheesan, who has registered his fifth consecutive win from the Paravur constituency in Ernakulam district, represents the new generation of Congress leadership, even though he is 56.
Satheesan is known for his oratory and debating skills both inside and outside the assembly. He speaks with clarity. An avid follower of public finance, his debates with Thomas Isaac inside and outside the House on topics like lottery, budget and KIIFB were proof of his skills.
Satheesan identifies himself as a Nehruvian socialist and Congress as a progressive party in the broad Left spectrum. He is someone who understands how important it is for the Congress to project itself as a true secular force. At a time when the exodus of Congress leaders to the BJP has become the new normal in the Modi era, he shows the guts to say it's better to commit suicide than joining the BJP. This ideological integrity is what is brazenly missing in many Congress leaders.
In a pre-election interview with Onmanorama, Satheesan admitted that the UDF's stance against implementing the Supreme Court's Sabarimala verdict was not progressive. He, however, said the front's stance saved Kerala from a catastrophic polarisation. No matter how diplomatic it sounds, Satheesan's explanation looks convincing than the brazen reactionary views of the old school.
The case for Satheesan in the opposition leader's chair, perhaps the most responsible position in a parliamentary democracy, gets stronger as the other probable name being suggested is of senior leader Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan.
It was Radhakrishnan who had proposed to bring in a Bill that moots jail for those who violate the customs of the Sabarimala temple. In fact, the draft Bill, even though not officially endorsed by the UDF, made the front look a fossil, one that was far behind the aspirations of the young generation.
The Kottayam MLA and former home minister is popular and has a clean political career, but the Sabarimala strategy alone proves that he is not the kind of the leader who should be the face of the Congress at this juncture. Radhakrishnan is 71.
Thrikkakara MLA P T Thomas is another name doing the rounds for the post. Thomas is an arch-rival of the CPM. He minces no words when he takes on Pinarayi Vijayan. However, that alone doesn't make him fit for the post.
Satheesan differs from Thomas as he does his homework properly. He is an avid reader with a keen interest in history and economics. His academic instincts and political acumen, a rare combination among Congress leaders, qualify him to be the perfect pick for the post in these changing times. Satheesan is also a politician who understands the power of social media. A video interview series he hosted with eminent people from various fields in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic revealed his understanding of different subjects.
He was re-elected from Paravur with an increased margin (21,301 votes) despite the pro-government wave. The Punarjani rehabilitation project that he initiated in the constituency following the 2018 floods that ravaged the state stand testimony to his visionary approach to political activism.
The LDF government tried to corner him alleging corruption in the housing project, implemented using the help from CSR funds. However, the charges affected neither him nor the voters of Paravur.
A section within the Congress say Satheesan is a natural choice for the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the present political scenario. It remains to seen if the party will be ready to seize the opportunity to reboot itself.