In Kerala, Left rises amid Hindutva frailty

The 2016 Assembly election results are not surprising to anyone who has followed the layered political dimensions in Kerala over a period of time. The results in a nutshell – the triumph of the CPM-led Left, decimation of the Congress-led UDF and a noteworthy performance of the BJP-led NDA (in terms of vote share) – are promising and equally worrisome.

Most pundits see the results in the context of development, corruption and nepotism of the UDF government even as the  defeat of four ministers and a couple of narrow escapes have been raised. A majority of the electorate believed that the successful presentation of the outgoing chief minister Oommen Chandy as a ‘merchant of sins’ and cast their votes accordingly. 

Another important ‘fated to be doomed’ factor was women’s issues. Though a myopic nationalism through the abstractness of Bharat Mata did not influence the majority, the mutilated body of Jisha, a Dalit student, was surely decisive. A calamitous trajectory of atrocities against women and Dalits in particular, pressed multiple panic buttons both in urban and rural areas.

Narrativised as a femme fata-le, Sarita Nair was another wom-an who decided the providence of the Congress. Through a seri-es of self-inflicting processes, she uncovered the underbelly of institutionalised corruption in the government. Exposé of an unwritten rule in the system, ‘projects for sex,’ not only alienated a significant section of educated urban women but also bared the misogynic and patriarchal violence in the state apparatus.

The Left’s victory is indicative of how a politically conscious electoral society resists the consolidation of a religiously constructed hate emotion. With the increasing presence of Hindutva in Kerala’s public sphere, one major worry during the last few years was the pertinence of communalism. Witnessing the pers-istent invocation of the usual pol-emic, beef, soldiers, secularism as disease and the Left as anti-nationals, most voters removed themselves from such rhetoric.

The victories of V T Balram, a Congress MLA and an open crusader against Hindutva’s dietary nationalism, from a predominantly upper caste constituency and that of Muhammed Muhsin, a Left candidate and JNU doctoral scholar, in a Muslim-dominated constituency – both in Palakkad district – clearly indicate such refusals.

This is crucial after witnessing a rigorous Hindutva campaigning led by none other than the prime minister himself.

The results not only show the emptiness of Hindutva but also its failure to bank on the celebrated caste-based alliance with the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS),which represents the Izhavas, who form 27% of the total population in central and south Kerala.

While attempts to homogenise the internal complexities through cultural emotions remain a mirage, it has led to a strong secular consolidation across the state. In a series of speeches, Vellappalli Nateshan, the leader of BDJS, gave verbal expressions to the inherent anti-adivasi/Dalit and anti-secular position of Hindutva, thus hurting the sentiments from within. Failure of Janu, a cult Adivasi leader, and abysmal electoral performance in Kuttanadu district, a major Izhava bastion, validate these complexities.

Similarly, despite neo-Islamist contours’ increasing gerrymandering in the social media and branding the Left as ‘the main villain,’ one can see an astute political voting by the Muslims, pa-rticularly when the contestations are decided by the presence of the NDA. A consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of win-nable candidates – LDF or UDF – is very clear, reflecting the petrified minority mindscape.
Hindu middle class.

However, in the absence of strong Hindutva or localised communal factors, they seemingly favoured the Left and rejected completely the Islamist identitarian fringes. They stood with broader secular collectives, indeed with a full realisation of their problems.

Similarly, results also show that a large section of the Hindu middle class refused to communicate with the new claimants of their ownership. Concerned with the complacency of the Congress in the growth of Hindutva and the hate fists of cultural rhetoric, they favoured the victory of the Left. Such trends were seen in the Christian majority constituencies as well.

Though the results reflect people’s realisation of the vacuous religious rhetoric of Hindutva and the rejection of its electoral ascendency, one cannot but think of the deceptiveness in the logic of percentage. It is a fact now that Hindutva has a deep penetration into the social life of Kerala and the trend continues in the absence of effective ideological resistance.

While it is true that the victory of the BJP in one constituency is mired in a ‘vote-exchange’ controversy, its growth in the last five years in the state suggests the precariousness when it comes to building a frontal ideological resistance. So, the results bring a huge responsibility on the Left which cannot afford to treat the mandate as gift to them for being a ‘holy cow’.

The results only mean that the voters made prescriptive rejections of the self-righteousness of the UDF as they are bothered about the violence of development, women’s issues, and communalism. Therefore, if the Left, particularly the CPM, refuses to engage with its own culture of political violence and strategic communal promotion in northern Malabar, its fate will not be dissimilar.  
  
(The writer is assistant professor, Department of History, University of Delhi)  


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