In a state which religiously dumps the ruling party in every election, the Congress may well end up creating history in Kerala.
If — and it is not a small if — that happens, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy will give the Congress, now more or less in the dumps nationally, a lot to cheer about.
With assembly elections a little over a month away, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) dismisses the possibility with contempt. Surprisingly, many in the Congress feel the impossible can become possible in May.
Chandy’s confidence stems from the fact that after he led the Congress to a slender two-seat majority in the 140-member Kerala assembly in 2011, few gave his government a life of more than six months.
But despite a plethora of scams and allegations that have hit hard the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), Chandy became the second chief minister from Congress to complete a full five-year term.
The first one was the wily K. Karunakaran — way back in 1982.
Congress strategists say no state government in Kerala has implemented or commenced work on so many development projects.
This was in line with a slogan Chandy aggressively promoted after he took charge of Kerala: Development and Care.
The Smart City Kochi project was commissioned, the Kochi Metro began trial runs and work on the Kannur airport is progressing as per schedule.
And the Vizhhinjam Port, delayed over a quarter century, has been put on fast track so that operations begin on September 1, 2018.
Chandy claims another record: putting up 100 major bridges across the state in a span of 400 days.
The government introduced a ‘Karunya’ scheme to divert profits earned from state-run lotteries to a special fund to provide health care to the poor.
More than one lakh patients benefitted and over Rs.1,200 crore was paid to various state and private hospitals that treated the poor.
Chandy is of course acutely aware of the hit his government’s image has taken on account of the various corruption scandals.
“Let anyone say anything,” he says dismissively of the allegations hurled at him. “No one can prevent anyone from levelling allegations.”
But he wonders why veteran Marxist leader and former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan is asking him not to contest the elections.
“I fail to understand why they say that. What they should do instead is to take up all the allegations against me to the voters and defeat me. Why are they asking me to refrain from contesting?”
Chandy is equally confident that the Congress candidates for the May 16 polls appear to be the best in recent times: a blend of youth and experience.
Chandy may have one more advantage: the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala’s politics.
Traditionally, Kerala’s voters have swung between the Congress-led UDF and the LDF led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).
With the BJP contesting in a big way now, Congress leaders hope that anti-government votes may split instead of consolidating behind the Left.
Chandy, however, knows that the Congress suffers from factions. His consolation is the situation is no different in the CPI-M, whose two top leaders – Achutanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan – have little love for each other.
But while Chandy is upbeat, the CPI-M is supremely confident that history will repeat in Kerala, which incidentally holds the record of electing the world’s first Communist government through ballot in 1957.
Marxist leaders claim that people are fed up with the Chandy regime, which they say has worked more for business houses and individuals under the guise of development.
At the same time, CPI-M’s Vijayan has warned the Left to shed complacency and work hard for a victory.
A statement of that kind during election season in Kerala is unusual. To diehard Congress supporters, it is a welcome sign.
(Sanu George can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal)