Bengal offers valuable lessons to CPM, Congress over handling their Kerala allies

An apparent shift in its attitude towards alliance partners reflects the lessons the CPM in Kerala has learnt from the experience of its West Bengal unit.

The change in CPM’s attitude became visible during the recent Assembly elections in Kerala. The Loktantrik Janata Dal did not probe the reasons that led to the defeat of its State president M V Shreyams Kumar in Kalpetta, despite a demand by the party leadership.

The CPM state committee, however, directed the district committee to find the reasons for the failure in Kalpetta, the seat which the CPM had won in 2016. The party took note of the dip in votes in certain panchayats, where the CPM had an upper hand.

The CPM’s State leadership rejected its Wayanad district committee secretary’s argument that the party had nothing to do with Kumar’s defeat, and hence a probe was not necessary. A few other State committee members, too, raised the same argument.

The leadership also rejected the Kottayam district committee’s apprehension on whether the party should probe the defeat of Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K Mani in Pala.

The CPM leadership felt that the party was also responsible for the LDF candidate’s defeat in any sitting seat; hence it rejected the arguments of its Wayanad and Kottayam units.

Lessons for Congress

Congress should learn from the CPM’s attitude shift. The CPM and CPI, which won together 79 of the 99 seats they had contested, could have shared the power in Kerala by sidelining the allies. But for the first time in the State, the Front decided to fix terms for ministers to accommodate smaller alliance partners.

Incidentally, Congress is the master of sharing positions in local bodies. Yet, it has not fixed terms for ministers in the cabinet, as CPM had done. The CPM’s decision to fix terms came as a surprise to single-MLA parties, the Indian National League and Janadhipathya Kerala Congress, who have been assured cabinet berths for two-and-a-half years.

The CPM, which denied the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) the Kollam Lok Sabha seat in 2014, has not sidelined Kovoor Kunjumon, the representative of RSP (B). RSP had left the LDF after it was denied the Lok Sabha seat. RSP (B) was formed by splitting the parent party.

Meanwhile, in the rival UDF camp, All India Forward Bloc and Bharatiya Janata Dal were not even granted a seat. The Congress, which took over 93 Assembly constituencies out of the total 140, failed in winning the simple majority of 71 seats.

Contrasting Thiruvananthapuram and Nenmara cases

The CPM took a magnanimous stand during the campaign phase. Politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan reviewed the campaign in the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, where Antony Raju of the Janadhipathya Kerala Congress successfully sought the mandate.

The constituency was one among the four segments in the district, where Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had personally campaigned. The CPM also contributed significantly to the campaign.

In contrast, the CMP candidate who had been active in the Nenmara constituency since the local body polls had to financially support the Congress workers. Still, when the UDF gave the seat to CMP, Congress workers tagged it as ‘payment seat.’

On seeing the deteriorating situation, the UDF leadership asked CMP general secretary C P John to visit Palakkad and request the support of Congress leaders. In short, the UDF lost Nenmara much before the campaign machinery was set rolling. Similar situations in several other constituencies also cost the UDF dearly.

The Bengal lesson

The CPM and Congress’s attitude towards alliance partners reflect the lessons learnt or not learnt from West Bengal. While CPM has apparently learnt the lesson, Congress is yet to accept the Bengal reality.

In Kerala the Congress and CPM won 25 per cent votes each in the recent Assembly polls, taking their combined vote share to 50 per cent. Other parties together have won the remaining 50 per cent.

In Bengal, Trinamool Congress won 47.9 per cent of votes while BJP garnered 38.1 per cent. While in Tamil Nadu, DMK won 37.77 per cent and AIADMK got 33.29 per cent of votes. In both these States, the presence of other parties is negligible. But in Kerala, the playground of political alliances, even half a per cent of the vote will become crucial.

Keeping alliance partners in good humour is one lesson the CPM has learnt from the mistakes it had committed in Bengal. The CPM state committee’s decision to probe the LDF’s defeats in Kalpetta and Pala is not out of sympathy towards the allies, but the realization that it is necessary for the Front’s existence. And this is one lesson UDF has to understand.

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