It is quite evident that the CPI(M) — once a key mover and shaker in national coalition politics — has opted to stay out of the Coordination Committee of the Opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc under pressure from its powerful unit in Kerala, the only state where the party is in power.
While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan have sought to downplay the party opting out of the Coordination Committee, the decision clearly has to do with the state unit’s compulsion to stay at arm’s length from the Congress.
Unlike the situation elsewhere in the country, the BJP has little influence among voters in Kerala, and the CPI(M)-led LDF will be engaged in a direct fight with the Congress in all 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.
Most leaders in the state feel the party would find it difficult to fight the Congress “vigorously” if it is identified as a close alliance partner at the national level, especially as the responsibility of ensuring a CPI(M) presence in the next Lok Sabha rests largely with its Kerala unit.
With the possibility of Rahul Gandhi contesting again from Wayanad constituency, the party and the Left front will have to struggle to protect their turf and win at least half a dozen seats.
In the last Lok Sabha election, Gandhi’s presence in Wayanad as a Congress candidate influenced voters in other constituencies, and the LDF could win only a single seat — Alappuzha — in Kerala.
CPI in Coordination Committee
Interestingly, the LDF’s second-largest constituent, the CPI, has chosen to be a part of the INDIA Coordination Committee, even though it was its candidate who was defeated by Gandhi in Wayanad last time.
Wayanad is among the four constituencies in Kerala that are traditionally contested by the CPI as part of the arrangements within the LDF.
Many CPI (M) leaders in Kerala feel the CPI acted too hastily in becoming part of the Coordination Committee.
But CPI national executive member K Prakash Babu confirmed to South First that the party joined the Opposition alliance’s Coordination Committee only after discussing the with other left parties in the country — the CPI(M), the Revolutinary Socialist Party (RSP), and the Forward Bloc.
He said the CPI(M), which initially informed the alliance that it would select its nominee to the committee, changed its stand after the last Politburo meeting, and the reasons for the changed stance remain unknown.
When media persons raised the issue at the press meeting held by Chief Minister Vijayan on Tuesday, 19 September, which was held after a gap of seven months, he said his party would cooperate with the forum without being an inside partner.
“We accepted that there could be a platform or forum, but opposed the idea of it becoming an organisation. That is why when they decided to set up a Coordination Committee — which is an organisational set-up — we opposed it,” he said.
Just the day before, Govindan had told the media that the CPI(M) would be an integral part of the anti-BJP front at the national level and that there would be no backtracking from the fight against the BJP.
He, too, said the decision to stay away from the committee was taken to protect the party’s identity.
However, highly placed sources in the party confirmed to South First that the Kerala unit of the party used the Politburo meeting to warn the national leadership that any open alliance with Congress would ruin the party fortunes in the only state where it was in a position to win any seats.
They told the leadership that making common cause with Congress at the national level and taking a stand at the state level against it at the same time would be difficult.
The West Bengal unit also supported the Kerala leaders this time, saying the INDIA arrangement at the national level would weaken the party’s fight against the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
Curiously, the CPI(M) has no antipathy towards the Congress in West Bengal.
In Tamil Nadu, CPI(M) and CPI are part of the DMK-led Secular Alliance, in which Congress is the second-largest constituent.
In Telangana, the two Left parties allied with the Congress after the BRS decided against having seat arrangements with them.
The Kerala scenario
When contacted by South First, CPI(M) Central Committee member and former Kerala minister AK Balan agreed that the party is uncomfortable being part of an open alliance involving the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, and the Shiv Sena.
According to him, Kerala’s electorate would understand the compulsions of the party while forging a collective defence against the BJP at the national level, and they would vote in favour of the LDF and against Congress in the Lok Sabha election.
What has further irked the CPI(M) is the aggressive posturing of Congress leaders in the state against the Vijayan government. Even the chief minister and his immediate family are not spared.
The Congress also supports investigations by central agencies into the alleged scams and corruption cases under the Vijayan government.
For the Congress, Kerala is one state from where it can get a sizable number of Lok Sabha members; in the last election, the UDF won 19 of the 20 seats. Normally, Kerala prefers Congress candidates in the Lok Sabha and LDF candidates in the state Assembly.
According to Congress insiders, Gandhi skipped the byelection campaign in the Puthuppally Assembly constituency last month to avoid a direct confrontation with the CPI(M). He thought such a war of words would help the BJP create hype against the INDIA bloc at the national level.
However, Congress leaders in Kerala are now at their aggressive best in targeting the CPI(M) despite naming the BJP as their number one enemy.
The party also has its own spin for why the CPI(M) has opted to stay out of the INDIA Coordination Committee.
“CPI(M) leaders in Kerala, who are facing prosecution by different central agencies on corruption and nepotism charges, orchestrated the decision to toss out the INDIA bloc to avoid provoking the BJP at the Centre,’ chatged VD Satheesan, the Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly.
Crucial election for CPI(M)
The Congress is campaigning across the state that the CPI(M) enjoys an unholy tacit alliance with the BJP-RSS, and that is why the central agencies have slowed down on itheir nvestigations against Vijayan and other LDF leaders.
“As far as the CPI (M) is concerned, its state unit is in a piquant situation. It has nothing to say about the achievements of the state government in the Lok Sabha election. How can a party with a significant presence only in Kerala claim it would be an alternative to the Sangh Parivar threat at the national level,” asked political observer Joseph C Mathew.
“Without acknowledging and accepting the Congress leadership at the national level, it would be difficuly to face the election,” Mathew told South First.
CPI(M) insiders feel the next election will be crucial for Left politics in India.
If the LDF fails to win a significant number of seats in Kerala and draws blanks in other states, the whole Left will be rooted out. In the last election, the DMK and Congress helped CPI and CPI(M) win two seats each from Tamil Nadu, while Kerala’s contribution remained one.