People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April  17, 2011




On the Election Trail


Prakash Karat


THE people of Kerala and Tamilnadu went to the polls for the assembly elections on April 13.  Along with them, the union territory of Puducherry also had elections. Kerala and Tamilnadu saw a vigorous election campaign which was for a comparatively short period of two weeks.  I spent a few days in both these states during this period.  Here are a few observations about the election campaign and the prospects of the different electoral alliances.




Price rise and corruption were the two major issues which were thrown up during the campaign in both the states that particularly have an all India relevance. Everywhere, in both rural and urban areas, people are concerned about these two issues and the effect they have on their lives.  In Kerala, the issue of price rise is directly linked to the question of the public distribution system. The LDF government had extended the rice at Rs 2 per kilo to all deserving families outside the ambit of the BPL.  The measures taken by the state government to make available food and essential commodities at reasonable prices through the network of fair price shops, Maveli stores and cooperatives were appreciated by the people who see it as a buffer against price rise.  In contrast, the record of the Congress-led government at the centre in curbing price rise was dismal.


The vexed issue of high-level corruption had a special resonance in Kerala. Recently, a former minister of an earlier UDF government, R Balakrishna Pillai, was sent to jail, after the Supreme Court  upheld the lower court’s verdict and set aside his acquittal by the High Court.  That his punishment for corruption came about due to a petition filed by the then opposition leader V S Achuthanandan, underlined the firm stand of the LDF government on corruption. The 2G spectrum scandal and the host of other corruption cases under the UPA regime has brought down the image of the UPA government to the lowest in the eyes of the people.  In this context, the charge made by Congress president Sonia Gandhi during the election campaign that the LDF government was steeped in corruption and various scams flourished under its rule, was not only misplaced but found no takers even among Congress supporters. The campaign of the LDF effectively drove home the point that bringing the UDF to power would only bring back the bad old days of corruption and importing what is happening under the auspices of the UPA regime at the centre.


The popular outrage against high level corruption and the strong urge for a corruption free government has definitely worked in favour of the LDF.  The big crowds at chief minister V S Achuthanandan’s meetings were a recognition of this.


The election campaign has brought out another significant fact which has been noted by even the media hostile to the Left. There were no visible anti-incumbency feelings against the LDF government.  It was in this connection that the issue of development was raised, which was the third major issue. The Congress leadership and the UDF made development, or the lack of it, a major plank of their campaign.  Both the prime minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi made much of the alleged failure of the LDF government to ensure development in the state. 




They accused the state government of having failed to utilise central funds and projects properly. They claimed that Kerala has fallen back in the past five years in attracting investment and ensuring development.  This, they attributed to the backward looking ideology of the Left.  According to Manmohan Singh: “They fail to recognise the fundamentals of development have changed and that they pursue programmes which are not relevant to the needs of the common man.” Here is the crux of the matter. These elections saw two contesting approaches to development. For the Congress and the UPA government the “fundamentals of development have changed”, ie, it is necessary to adopt neo-liberal, market driven policies. It was the disastrous agrarian policies of the centre which led to distress among farmers and suicides in Kerala. Integrating agriculture to the global market and dismantling subsidies are part of this path of development. By this neo-liberal approach, what the Kerala government undertook – the revival of the public sector enterprises and making them profitable – is anathema.  The various social welfare measures extended to all sections of the working people, the push for universalisation of PDS, the measures taken to alleviate the indebtedness of farmers, the ensuring of minimum wages, pensions and other social security benefits are precisely the programmes which the prime minister decries “as not relevant to the needs of the common man” but which have ensured that there are no anti-incumbency trends.


The LDF manifesto has set out a path of development which challenges the neo-liberal approach of the UPA government at the centre.  It is this which is being attacked and bemoaned by many critics and commentators. They want Kerala to adopt the path of crony capitalism, facilitate the loot of natural resources and promote a corrupt nexus of big business-politicians and bureaucrats that have become the hallmark of the states run by the Congress or the BJP.


In the absence of any serious discontent among the people about the performance of the LDF government, the Congress-led UDF is banking upon the caste and communal organisations to rally support for them. Kerala has also seen the flow of money and liquor on a scale not seen before. At the end of the campaign the LDF can be confident that it has broken the veil drawn on its successful campaign through manufactured opinion polls and hostile media coverage.




In Tamilnadu too, corruption and price rise were two dominant issues. But here the problem of corruption had a magnified effect. After all, the biggest corruption scandal since independence was perpetrated by the DMK which is the ruling party in the state and whose minister at the centre became the prime accused. The people of Tamilnadu associate high level corruption with nepotistic family rule. The spectacle of various members of the family of chief minister Karunanidhi monopolising different spheres of business – film industry, television, print media and cable distribution, real estate, airlines and hotels – are seen by the people as an affront to the democratic system. The general secretary of the AIADMK, Ms Jayalalithaa has been hammering this point throughout the election campaign. And this has met with a big response from the people.


The acute price rise, widespread power cuts due to shortage of electricity and the vice-like grip of the DMK linked mafia-contractor nexus are  also other major problems which have turned the people against the DMK government. The DMK-Congress alliance is also an uneasy one with the latter being plagued by internal dissidence and open skepticism about the DMK’s image among the people.


Tamilnadu is a state which has experienced the full impact of the neo-liberal politics. No other state has seen such systematic use of illegal big money in elections as Tamilnadu in the recent years. Distribution of money to voters became widespread during the last Lok Sabha elections, after the earlier experiment in the assembly by-election in Thirumangalam. The Election Commission sought to check the flow of money by adopting some measures. Around Rs 50 crores of cash and materials were seized from various parts of the state in the run-up to the polls. In one instance in Trichy, from the rooftop of a mini bus Rs 5.11 crore was seized. But all this was just the tip of the iceberg. Crores have been spent on distributing money to voters ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 1000 in the urban areas; in the rural areas the amounts have ranged upto Rs 500.


However, one could sense the mood of the people during the campaign. No amount of money would be able to influence the verdict this time.


The DMK is the first authentic regional party in the country. It had a strong mass base deriving from the platform of social justice and had an organisational structure. It was one of the parties which pioneered a consistent platform on federalism and centre-state relations. It is a tragedy to see the degeneration of such a party into a family enterprise fully involved in crony capitalism and injecting money power so cynically into the electoral system.


If the DMK is thrown out in this election, it fully deserves such a fate. The Congress party which is seen as its partner in corruption will suffer a worse fate.