Skeletons are being pushed out in Kerala

posters

LSG election campaign posters in Thiruvananthapuram

Skeletons were not tumbling out but were being pushed out in Kerala as campaign for elections to the local self government intensified.

Election is an occasion when adjustment politics becomes difficult if you are not in alliance. So, every move by one Front or party is to be countered by the other.

In the initial phase of the campaign, the Opposition Left Democratic Front was not speaking much about the bar-bribery case though it had laid waste an entire session of the Assembly over the issue a few months back.

However, when the Vigilance Court directed that the probe into the case should be continued, it was hardly an opportunity to be missed amidst the campaign. As Opposition met even the Governor seeking ouster of Finance Minister K. M. Mani, in view of the court observation that there was prima facie a case against him.

Suddenly, skeletons in the LDF cupboard started falling, or being pulled out. News was leaked that the Vigilance was dropping the corruption case against former Minister Elamaram Kareem in Chakkittappara iron ore mining case. Mr. Kareem was alleged to have received Rs. 5 crore as bribe for granting permission to illegal iron ore mining. The Vigilance reported that Mr. Kareem had not received any bribes and also that the case was obsolete.

The allegations against V. A. Arunkumar, son of Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan, too got a fresh run with news reports that the Vigilance had recommended prosecution of Mr. Arunkumar for financial irregularities in Coirfed where he had been the Managing Director. Apparently, the recommendation was ready to be leaked out at the right moment.

SNDP Yogam General Secretary Vellappally Natesan, who started dreaming of a new political party and cobbled some sort of alliance with the BJP also met with a similar fate. The allegations surrounding the drowning of Swami Swaswathikanda of Sivagiri Mutt suddenly resurfaced with imputations that he had been murdered. Allegations about involvement of Mr. Natesan and his son were made by the very person (Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association Working President Biju Ramesh) who had raised allegations against Mr. Mani also. Obviously, he has Opposition support as CPI (M) would be the worst hit by Natesan’s alliance.

Faced with the allegations and certain uncertainties over the alliance with BJP, Mr. Natesan had to play it on a low key and skip some of the campaign programmes.

Kerala voters are discerning and know that all the skeletons are not phantoms. They have turned up in large numbers to vote and the results are keenly awaited. Which of the skeletons would they recognise as real and react to them is to be seen.

A. K. Antony’s criticism is a warning to Congress-led coalition in Kerala

Defence Minister A. K. Antony has issued a warning to the UDF government in Kerala by expressing his anguish over the situation in Kerala at a function of Indo-Russian firm BrahMos Aerospace in Thiruvananthapuram.  The Defence Minister said that though Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and P. K. Kunhalikutty have been asking for projects for the State, he was not courageous enough to locate any project in Kerala after the UDF government came to power.

Defence Minister A. K. Antony

Defence Minister A. K. Antony in his office in New Delhi

Though Antony did not say it directly, he was warning that the Congress led coalition in the State (UDF) would not be able to retain the seats it had won in the last Lok Saba Elections unless its performance improves. It is significant that his warning comes at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reshuffled his Cabinet with a view to the elections due in 2014. As the Number Two in the Union Cabinet, Antony has to see that the Congress performs well in the next elections.

The UDF had won 16 seats in the last Lok Sabha election out of 20. Every school boy knows that the Front would not be able to retain them in the next elections under the present circumstances, not to speak of winning more seats.  When he was the Chief Minister in the State, Mr. Antony had not been able to lead the Front to a victory in the Assembly elections. As Union Minister he wants to be one who has contributed to victory of the Front in the next Lok Sabha elections.  However, he is admitting that he was unable to do anything for the State because of the situation in the State. He was not getting the cooperation he wanted.

It is also notable that Mr. Antony praised the (previous) LDF government in Kerala. He knows only too well that the Congress will have to fall back on the Left too if it did not win enough seats to form a government at the Centre.  So, he is building bridges. It is also a fact the previous government had facilitated establishment of defence projects in the State.

Antony could also be concerned about a number of other issues.  There is growing discord among the ruling Front constituents. They are even making unethical bargains. The front could lose votes if Congress played to their tunes on some of the controversial positions they are taking. There is also considerable discord in the Congress. The proposed reorganisation of KPCC is getting delayed. All this should worry Mr. Antony more than anyone else. So, it is not surprising that he has fired a salvo against the UDF government, though he is unlikely to repeat that as elections come closer.  The crucial point is how far the Congress and UDF constituents in the State would heed his warning and act in larger interests.

Tailpiece:
Above all these, there is a personal factor to Mr. Antony’s criticism. Image-conscious Antony is hurt by the fact that allegations had been raised over the take over the Kerala Hitech Industries by joint venture Brahmos Aerospace and that neither Mr. Chandy nor Kunhalikutty had come to his defence. In fact, the INTUC unit in the company joined hands with the AITUC union which raised the allegations. Mr. Antony would not have voiced his concerns openly but for this factor. His remarks stemmed from personal hurt and diminishing influence in Kerala politics. (Revised and tailpiece added as post script on 17/11/2011).