CPM's gaffe

It is certain that the denial of a seat to Kerala chief minister Achuthanandan by the CPM would have done damage to the prospects of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the state’s assembly elections next month. But it is not equally certain whether the reversal of the party’s decision would undo that potential damage.

This is because the circumstances of the denial of ticket to the veteran leader, the party’s hide-and-seek game over it and its unconvincing explanations about the whole affair badly exposed  it at a crucial time. The state leadership had refused to offer a ticket to the chief minister clearly because of the factional fight between the groups led by Achuthanandan and party secretary Pinanrayi Vijayan. The Vijayan faction, which controls the party, thought that it could marginalise Achuthanandan.

But the protests all over the state forced the party to reconsider the decision and to announce Achuthanandan’s candidature. It does no credit to a party like the CPM, which claims to be close to the grassroots, to have made such a miscalculation of the sentiments of the people.

Achuthanandan is no great administrator, he is a conservative on many issues, but he has a clean reputation bordering on charisma. Just before the last election also the party had denied nomination to him but the central leadership had to reverse the decision following widespread protests, as it did again this time. History has repeated itself and it has made the CPM leadership look like a cast of comic players.

History is against the LDF coming back to power in this election in the state where no government has ever been returned. The LDF had done badly in the recent Lok Sabha and local body elections. But Achuthanandan had in the last few weeks forced the rival United Democratic Front (UDF) to go on the defensive by shifting the focus to corruption and personal misconduct where its leaders are vulnerable.

If these became electoral issues he had an advantage. But the party’s flip flop on his candidature has badly affected its image and credibility. Now the voters will not be sure whether Achuthanandan will be the chief minister even if the LDF wins the election. But he remains a vote-getter. A welcome message from the episode is that politicians who enjoy a clean image elicit spontaneous support from people across party lines even in these cynical times.

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