The local body elections in Kerala are ongoing while the Assembly elections in the state are four months down the line. In this backdrop, the local body elections are seen as a crucial stage in the political struggle to ensure the continuation of the only Left government in India that has taken a robust secular stance.
The political scenario in Kerala is utterly different from the time of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The subsequent Assembly by-election results supported CPI (M)'s position that public opinion was temporary at the time of the general election.
A large section of voters had considered the Congress as an alternative to the BJP, which was the reason for the setback to the Left in the LS elections. However, subsequent experiences have made the people realise that they had been deceived. Kapil Sibal, a prominent Congress leader, has publicly acknowledged that people do not see the Congress as a credible alternative to the BJP. Other prominent leaders in the party leadership have repeated it.
Recently, when secularism and the Constitution are under question, Congress has miserably failed to take a firm stand. The Congress did not even bother to respond to the government's decision to turn the Ram temple construction in Ayodhya into a government program. Moreover, senior leaders of the party have openly embraced it. The Congress has failed to take a secular stance and in recognising the BJP’s journey to a religious state by misusing believes for political gain.
The party did not dare to take the right approach when the Centre abolished the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who represents the state in the Rajya Sabha, even dared to attempt to visit Kashmir only after Sitaram Yechury visited Jammu and Kashmir with the permission of the Supreme Court. As of now, the Congress has pulled themselves out from the broader coalition of opposition parties in the state to protect democracy, conceding to the threats of BJP.
Also read: Kerala Local Body Elections: Is Congress-led UDF ‘Aligning’ With Communal Forces to Defeat LDF?
The Left, however, has been in the forefront, getting ready to lead the most vigorous resistance whenever challenges to secularism have arisen. Kerala was the first state to approach the Supreme Court against the law that determines citizenship based on religion as in religious countries. After the LDF government has taken such a bold stand, a few other states have followed the same path. The LDF government has also taken a strong stand that the unconstitutional law will not be implemented in the state. Through these decisions, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan gave a strong impetus to the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Here too, the Congress has failed to lead the protests.
In many states, people who have been opposing the BJP's communal stance had considered Congress as an alternative and supported it. But the Congress has deceived the people who have taken a secular stand.
Kamal Nath, who had seized power from BJP in Madhya Pradesh, was overthrown by a section of the Congress, led by Jyotiraditya Scindia (who later joined BJP), a prominent member of the Rahul Brigade and deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. The by-polls in Gujarat and Manipur also witnessed Congress MLAs' defection to the BJP. In the north-eastern states, Congress has been converted the BJP. The first attempt to defeat the Left government in Tripura was successful when BJP bagged the Congress MLAs’ seats in the Assembly.
How can people trust Congress whose representatives are ready to join the BJP at any time? The election result in Bihar showed that the communalism and deviance in policy had been opened up. The Congress was also the weak link in the grand alliance formed there against the NDA. Despite the strong sentiment in the state against the NDA, the people were not ready to trust the Congress. That is the main reason why the government there succeeded to remain in power tearing down the calculations. The Rashtriya Janata Dal leadership has publicly criticised the criminal indifference shown by Rahul Gandhi, who was brought to Wayanad as the Prime Ministerial candidate in the crucial 2019 LS election.
Congress has failed to protect secularism and the Constitution and take up the vital issues of the people. The BJP is following the same policies of Congress. The Congress has also failed one of the most massive peasant agitation in the history of independent India. While agricultural law reforms were promised in the Congress manifesto, when the Centre pushed through the contentious farm laws, the party did not even bother to demand voting on it in the Lok Sabha. In the Rajya Sabha, the Left and other parties, including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, demanded voting, but the Congress, the largest opposition party, refused to play a leading role.
Earlier when the second UPA government was in power, farmer suicides were rising daily. This is why the peasantry, which has experienced the Congress's policies, is not ready to trust the Congress.
Recent events in Bihar give people hope that an alternative is possible at the national level. The rise of the Left in Bihar is recognition from people for its work against communalism and economic policies. The countrywide agitation, which has now intensified in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and many other states, is also the result of a broad coalition of farmers' organisations. The Left peasant movements were able to play a leading role in this. The national strike (on November 26), which was attended by more than 25 crore workers, is also a factor in strengthening workers' unity, hope and confidence.
The local body elections in Kerala have a special significance, since the state is the main stronghold of Left politics, which is fuelling the growing secular democratic resistance across the country. At the national level, the Congress has failed to replace the BJP, while in Kerala it is joining hands with them to defeat the Left.
(The author is a former Rajya Sabha MP and member of CPIM. The views are personal. The article was first published in Deshabhimani.)