Hat trick by Oommen Chandy

Sabarinath with CM

K. S. Sabarinath (Right) with Oommen Chandy

It was a hat-trick victory for Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and the ruling Front in Aruvikkara Assembly constituency on Tuesday. The United Democratic Front (UDF) had won by-elections earlier at Neyyattinkara and Piravom after Mr. Chandy came to power in 2011.

The result indicates that Mr. Chandy’s mass contact strategy is still working though some might be disappointed by the unchanging face of bureaucracy. It also shows that the corruption charges against the government did not have the impact that the Opposition hoped for. The failure of the candidate put up by UDF dissident P. C. George to garner even one per cent of the votes perhaps underlines this.

The UDF had cleverly fielded a new face in the election instead of a seasoned politician. Now, almost every citizen know that politicians routinely take money from businessmen including bar and quarry owners for doing favours. But UDF candidate K. S. Sabarinadhan could not be grouped with them as he has not been in politics before.

Vote sharesHowever, it is notable that opposition parties, including BJP, and NOTA carried away a vote share of 56.87 per cent while UDF’s vote share dropped by 9.17 percentage points (from 48.78% to 39.61%.). The Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) suffered a loss of 7.1 percentage points (from 39.61% to 32.51%). NOTA polled one per cent of the votes. The vote share of BJP increased by nearly four-fold from 6.61 per cent to 23.96 per cent.

It showed that BJP could extend the advances it made in Thiruvananthapuram at least partially to neighbouring constituencies provided that it has the right candidate and political climate. BJP’s O. Rajagopal had won 33.3 per cent of the votes in the Lok Sabha polls from Thiruvananthapuram constituency in 2014. Now, he has won 23.96 per cent votes from a neighbouring Assembly segment.

This does not mean that BJP can duplicate the performance in the Assembly elections in 2016. It simply lacks candidates of the stature of Mr. Rajagopal to be fielded in other constituencies. It is also notable that Mr. Rajagopal’s popularity is not as strong as in Thriuvananthapuram in Aruvikkara. His appeal may have also diminished compared to the time of Modi wave and loss of popularity of Shashi Tharoor (who defeated him in Thiruvananthapuram).

However, the BJP’s performance is a clear warning to both the UDF and LDF. They will lose votes if people find an alternative, perhaps even NOTA, if they take the voters for granted. People are also not ignoring issues like development. The UDF lost a lead in Aruvikkara panchayat of Aruvikkara constituency over issues of local development. It won because BJP took away votes of LDF also. by-electionRelated Post:
Crucial battle for Oommen Chandy in Kerala

Crucial battle for Oommen Chandy in Kerala

The by-election from Aruvikkara constituency in Kerala is a crucial battle for Ommen Chandy government, beleaguered by corruption charges.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has taken it upon himself to win the election by fielding a novice. He has already addressed or interacted directly with half of the electorate in the constituency.

by-election

Finale of by-election campaign in Aruvikkara constituency in Kerala. Photos: Roy Mathew

A victory in Aruvikkara will enable Mr. Chandy to claim that his government still has people’s support. The ruling Front will be winning the third by-election after coming to power in 2011. (It had earlier won by-elections from Neyyattinkara and Piravom).

A defeat would show that support for government has slipped. This would encourage his detractors and he will face increasing pressure over corruption, questionable associations and misdemeanors of his Ministers and his own office. Though challenge to Mr. Chandy’s Chief- Ministership is not as strong as before, a defeat in the by-election can spell serious trouble for Mr. Chandy.

The campaigning is throwing out characteristics of a neck to neck race. However, the chances of the ruling Front (UDF) or Opposition Front (LDF) making a significant advance at the finish line could not be ruled out. The UDF candidate K. S. Sabarinathan, being a novice, has the advantage of being unblemished. The LDF candidate M. Vijayakumar, on the other hand, has to carry his own baggage. He faces an unusual situation of a counter affidavit having filed against his affidavit given as part of his nomination papers.

electionThis may be first time that a counter gets filed against an affidavit filed by a candidate. This could now become a trend in future elections.
The BJP candidate O. Rajagopal is sure to carry away a notable number of votes from the UDF and LDF kitty. He had been runner up in elections from Thiruvananthapuram.

His party’s vote share in Aruvikkara in the Assembly election of 2011 was only less than seven per cent. Mr. Rajagopal, who is popular around Thiruvananthapuram, and his foray into an adjoining area is sure to increase BJP’s votes.

Related links:
Kerala Assembly election database
By-election results: Neyyattinkara and Piravom

Governor redeems

Finance Minsiter K. M. Mani

Kerala Finance Minister K. M. Mani presenting the Budget for 2015-16 in the Assembly on March 13, 2015 amidst vandalism by Opposition

Kerala Governor P. Sadasivam has at least nominally redeemed the prestige of Kerala legislature by warning legislators about their conduct.

A former Chief Justice of Supreme Court of India, Sadasivam will not have failed to notice the obvious break down of not only Constitutional norms but also gross violation of democratic principles by the Opposition. There is no place for vandalism in legislative bodies in a democracy. However, reaction from opinion leaders was generally muted while the ordinary people on the social media could do nothing more than lampooning the politicians.

The Governor’s remark that the happenings on the floor of the Assembly on Friday (March 13, 2015) may even justify submission of a report by the Governor to the President under Article 356 of the Constitution of India is a rebuke to both the ruling and Opposition fronts. What the Governor hints is the vandalism of the kind in the House amounts to Constitutional break down warranting dissolution of the Assembly.

The Speaker N. Sakthan could not maintain even a semblance of order in the Assembly because of his reluctance of use force. Normal practice in the House is to use the watch and ward to cordon the podium of the Speaker as soon as the Opposition starts disruption of proceedings. On Friday, the Opposition had started their protest even before the House was called into session. Speaker probably hesitated because he was new to the Chair and did not want to start with a direct confrontation with the Opposition and become a direct target of the Opposition in the coming days.

The Opposition leaders had gone to the Governor saying that the presentation of the Budget was not in order, after creating all the disorder. The Governor has indirectly rebuffed them by accepting the Speaker’s stand that the Budget was duly presented. The Speaker could not be seen as conducting the business of the House during the bedlam created by the Opposition who had also practically gheraoed the Speaker and thrown his chair off the podium in gross disregard to the prestige of the House and its privileges. (The procedures adopted in the House for presentation of the Budget could be irregular but could not be challenged in a court of law. The House is the final arbiter of its own procedures).

The Governor, who himself is part of the Assembly as head of the State, has hinted that the further proceedings on the Budget including passing of the demands for grants on account and Appropriation Bill should be done in an orderly fashion. He may not condone total absence of order and decorum.

 

Members of the Assembly care when it comes to drug prices

Most of the members of the Assembly took care to attend the special discussion on the report of an Assembly committee on drug prices and related issue in the House on Thursday. There was unanimity in the House that the skyrocketing drug prices should be checked. The members cared when it came to health care and medicines.

They pressed the Health Minister V. S. Sivakumar to make it mandatory for doctors to prescribe drugs by their generic names and Mr. Sivakumar announced that it would be made mandatory for doctors in government hospitals. As to other doctors, he would have to seek legal opinion.

Ruling Front members even egged on the Minister to turn the Kerala Medical Services Corporation into a super store for bulk purchase and supply of drugs even to the private medical shops. But, Mr. Sivakumar appeared to reluctant; citing infrastructural, financial and logistical problems. However, he was forced to announce that the Health Secretary would be asked to examine the feasibility.

The two proposals, if implemented, would take the State a long way in checking drug prices.  Legally, a medical shop could now supply on the drug prescribed by the doctor. If it is by the brand name, he would have to supply that brand and not any of the alternatives. If prescription by generic name is introduced, it would give the consumer a choice. He can buy the brand and price level he chooses. (As of now, medicines are the only items over which the consumer has no choice.)

This would have an impact on prices as the price difference between various brands can be very high. Some branded drugs prescribed by the doctors could be several times higher than the generic variant. Now Internet sites such as PatientIndia are available that could help the consumer to make the choice by listing prices of the generic and branded drugs. Advice can also be received from the doctor regarding quality, but the final choice would be that of the patient.

If the Corporation enters the wholesale market in a big way, it would surely bring down prices provided that corruption in the organisation is checked. It can also help to check quality. It is imperative that the government would have to ensure quality of generic drugs when doctors start prescribing them.

For further reading:
Doctors to prescribe generic drugs in govt. hospitals

Honouring Yesudas, Is Assembly Setting a Bad Precedent?

The Kerala Assembly honours playback singer K. J. Yesudas on Wednesday. That Yesudas is meritorious to receive honours is unequivocal. However, the Assembly may be setting a bad precedent.

The danger here is that the practice of the House honouring eminent persons could become something like the universities awarding honorary degrees. Many an unworthy persons receive honorary degrees with universities having to bear various kinds of pressures. The Assembly too is sure to come under pressure for honouring persons under influences that may not always be honourable.

K. J. Yesudas

K. J. Yesudas

These days we see communal organisations competing each other for issue of commemorative stamps. There are not many complaints because the postal department is liberal in the issue of such stamps.
However, the Assembly cannot be liberal like that. Questions can still arise why the Assembly is honouring a popular singer and not the well known exponents of classical music or arts. Will the Assembly be honouring people from other fields such as literature?

It is true that the House has honoured past members and journalists on occasions like its jubilee. However, the connotation that the House was honouring someone was almost absent as it was considered part of the celebrations rather than connected with the business of the House. Besides, those honoured were someway associated with the functioning of the Assembly though journalists are technically strangers as far as proceedings of the House are concerned. Now, the occasion for the House deciding to honour Yesudas is that he is completing 50 years of his illustrious career as professional singer this year.

One should recall that there was even opposition to civilian awards. The Janata Government headed by Morarji Desai had discontinued the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri awards in the late seventies. Though it was restored three years later by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the choice of winners continued to attract criticism despite the government having a system and machinery to make the selections. How is the Assembly going to make better choices if it plans to honour more people?