With only days left for the Assembly election notification, a particular political atmosphere, unfamiliar before, is forming in Kerala. In earlier times, the state used to get geared up for clear and diverse political debates ahead of elections; the political views and policies of different parties and fronts are cross-examined, their manifestoes are analysed, the merits and shortfalls of the five-year-long leadership of the incumbent government are discussed. It is only then that the voters take their call. However, the routine has been disrupted this year. Or rather, the priorities of electoral campaigns have shifted. Rather than political debates and discourses on development, certain other factors seem to get the upper hand. To put it plainly, electoral campaigns have been reduced to majority appeasement and minority othering. The political statements of mainstream politicians and fronts in the last few days testify to that. The remarks by mainstream leaders and fronts in recent days is proof of the same. This is not new. However, earlier leaders were cautious not to state it in blatant terms. But now, all reservations have been set aside to make a stage for pragmatic politics.
The upcoming elections are decisive for both the ruling and opposition fronts. The Left is determined to repeat its victory in the recent local body elections, which it won despite raging controversies, and ensure a second term for the incumbent CM Pinarayi Vijayan. For the Left, it is also a question of survival. If it is unable to win a majority at Kerala's assembly polls, CPM would be bereft of power in its last bastion. Likewise for UDF, especially the Congress, this is by their own admission,a struggle for survival. It is none else but some Congress leaders themselves who have stated that if the people continue to place them in the opposition, nobody would be left in the party and members would migrate en masse to the Sangh Parivar. Recognising these realities, parties took to electoral campaigns early this time. Chief Minister's press conferences, ministers' adalats and party workers' local outreach programmes are progressing in this direction. The Aishwarya Kerala Yatra, led by the opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala is moving towards the same goal. However, in all such campaigns, neither of the fronts engages in political debates or development concepts, but rather in issues like Sabarimala.
The UDF has proposed a legislation to ensure punishment for violation of rituals. They have also released a draft of the law. The UDF is attempting to cash in on the hurt believer sentiments over women's entry at Sabarimala. When the Supreme Court had issued an order permitting women's entry to Sabarimala, the Congress leadership had made a similar statement, which gave it a positive outcome in the Assembly polls too. The CPM and the Left government, which had earlier filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in favour of women's admission and had initially supported the court's verdict, changed track without condemning the Congress' proposal evidently in fear of losing majority votes. The same is the motive behind the the Left leadership's clarification that another ruling from the judiciary would be implemented only after a discussion with believers. As for the BJP-led NDA, they too have been upholding beliefs and ritual in its campaign. Taking it a step ahead, they have also declared that the Devaswom board would be dissolved and handed over to believers.
We need to think about the factors that motivated the fronts to move to wield 'faith' despite available opportunities for the Opposition for a wider campaign in the face of controversy and allegations of corruption against the ruling party and the Sprinkler controversy or for the ruling front to highlight popular development programs including 'Life'. Instead of development, one wonders whether communal agenda have entered Kerala following the 'UP model'. But when truly secular parties throw to the winds their previous stances in favour of appeasing majority religion, the beneficiary will be the Hindutva agenda. That is why voices of minority alienation and Islamophobia are also often heard from these groups, together with that appeasement. The dangerous political approach will aid only the Sangh Parivar in the long run.