Updated: March 12, 2021 8:16:10 am
The CPM candidates’ list for the assembly elections in Kerala is remarkable in many ways. The party has sought to dodge anti-incumbency and win another term by replacing at least 33 sitting MLAs, including five ministers, with new faces — it is contesting in 85 seats. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is riding high on a recent sweep of the local bodies polls and his imprimatur is clear on the list. By all accounts, the party has endorsed his preferences and the onus of victory is now on him. This is no mean task: Never has Kerala voted back the incumbent party or front, except in 1977.
Topping the list of sitting MLAs who have been benched is the charismatic founder-leader of the CPM and former chief minister, V S Achuthanandan. At 97, an ailing VS seems to have decided to end his legislative career, which began in 1967. In the last two decades, he has been the face of the CPM campaign in elections, leading the party to victory twice, including in 2016. His appeal cuts across all social divides, including class and caste, which helped Left candidates to gain non-party votes. The void will be tough to fill. Along with him, the party has chosen to retire popular ministers including finance minister, T M Thomas Isaac, and public works minister, G Sudhakaran. The Kerala CPM recently introduced a criterion that barred MLAs who have won two consecutive elections from contesting for the assembly. Some years ago, the CPI had introduced a similar condition — that legislators who have served three terms in the assembly in state polls should not be fielded. This restriction on assembly terms is a welcome measure since it creates space for younger and newer politicians and ideas. Indian politicians tend to view parliamentary positions as permanent sinecures and refuse to retire even after they become physically incapable of attending to legislative duties. The Kerala CPM may have also drawn lessons from its erstwhile stronghold, West Bengal, where the party repeated legislators for numerous terms. Saddled with far too many old men in its leadership, the Bengal CPM has been slow and heavy-footed in responding to the challenge from the Trinamool Congress and BJP.
However, the party cadres haven’t been entirely welcoming of this overhaul and the perceived imposition of candidates from the party headquarters. Unprecedented public protests have been reported from at least two constituencies and many LDF nominees risk cadre anger. Going ahead, the challenge for the CPM leadership is to convince the cadres, and then the voters, that it means well.