Debating India

KERALA

The party of last resort

Tuesday 14 November 2006

Other than gaining a `national’ identity, the Democratic Indira Congress led by former Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran is unlikely to benefit in any significant measure from its merger with the Nationalist Congress Party headed by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. In Kerala’s polarised politics, the best course for the DIC(K) would have been to try and obtain an assured place in either of the fronts, the United Democratic Front led by the Congress or the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

But this no longer seems possible: in the last election, the LDF showed it could best the UDF without taking in more partners; and the UDF found to its dismay that the DIC(K) was not as strong on the ground as it was on paper. Although the NCP is with the LDF at the State level and is with the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress at the national level, Mr. Karunakaran will find a backdoor entry into the UDF or the LDF extremely difficult. The NCP, in its pre-merger form, was small enough to be accommodated in the LDF. If the merger is to have any meaning, the NCP would have to ask for a greater share of the seats within the LDF, which the other constituents of the front might find impossible to concede.

Moreover, one of the reasons why the CPI(M) opposed the entry of DIC(K) into the LDF is the past history of the Karunakaran faction: until he split from the Congress, Mr. Karunakaran considered the CPI(M) his main enemy, and the cadres of the LDF and the DIC(K) could not have managed any election-eve coordination. As for a re-entry into the UDF, the very same factors that necessitated the Karunakaran faction’s breakaway from the Congress in the first place would militate against it. In any case, after the DIC(K)’s debacle in the Assembly election in which it could win just one seat, the UDF sees the party more as a liability.

Against this background, the merger can only serve as a launch pad for a third front in Kerala. In a situation where the Bharatiya Janata Party, despite inheriting the organisational strength of the Sangh Parivar, has been unable to win any seat on its own, the NCP would need more than the guiles of Mr. Karunakaran to make any kind of impact on the State’s political landscape. After all, the political polarisation in Kerala came at the end of a long phase of experimentation that saw the smaller parties tilting the electoral scales towards either the Congress or the CPI(M). With most of the smaller players other than the BJP having established themselves in one or the other of the two fronts, the NCP may well have to now start the third front all alone.

See online : The Hindu

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