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Who will be the next CM of Kerala?

May 8, 2016

In the last quarter of a century, since 1991, there have been just five persons to don the mantle of chief ministership in “Gods’ own country” – K. Karunakaran, AK Antony, EK Nayanar, Oommen Chandy, and V. S. Achuthanandan.

Who can be the next CM of Kerala?

Ever since Kerala was born following the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, it has seen 11 Chief Ministers: Antony, late EK Nayanar and late K.Karunakaran were CMs thrice; late EMS Namboodiripad, late C. Achutha Menon and Chandy, twice. Pattom A. Thanu Pillai of Praja Socialist Party and C. H. Mohammed Koya of Indian Union Muslim League – the only two chief ministers outside the ranks of the Congress, the Communist Party of India, or CPI (Marxist), Kerala has always had either a Congressman or a Communist/Marxist as Chief Minister.
The CPI and CPM both are constituents of the Left Democratic Front (LDF). The LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) have alternatively been voted to power ever since these coalitions were formed in the 1970s.

If Oomen Chandy Becomes the CM

This time, in case the incumbent chief minister Chandy (Congress/UDF) returns for the second consecutive term, he will create history since no incumbent government ever got a second consecutive term in the state with the extraordinary exception following the 1977 state elections. If he returns, Chandy will also join the exclusive club of EMS, Menon and Antony, who served the state as CM thrice.

The biggest plus for Chandy is the general impression that his government did deliver in the last five years. During his present tenure, the state’s GDP had a higher average than the national average between 2012 and 2014. The performance of social sectors, too, improved considerably as his government doled out money through various schemes and programmes to this sector. Chandy hopes that projects such as the Kochi Metro, SmartCity and the Kannur Airport could well fetch him power yet again.

Challenges from Ramesh Chennithala

Yet, his Achilles’ heel could well be the corruption charges against his government, particularly the much publicised Land and Solar scams, as well as inflation and crash in the prices of two important cash crops of the state – rubber and tea – that has impacted the farmers adversely. Within his party fold too, he faces challenge from his Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, who was the state Congress president till 2014 and reportedly enjoys the confidence of the Congress high command in New Delhi.

He has openly challenged the authority of Chandy stating that the election could not just be the evaluation of Chandy’s performance, but that of the UDF. Chennithala is contesting from the rural constituency, Harippad in Aleppey district. Yet another threat from within to Chandy’s prospects as CM in case the UDF wins, is the state Congress president VM Sudheeran, who, though, is not contesting the elections.

V.S. Achuthanandan

In case of the LDF forming government – that could be a possibility given the state’s longstanding record of not voting for the incumbent government – the 93-year-old CPI(M) veteran and Chandy’s immediate predecessor Velikkakathu Sankaran Achuthanandan remains a strong contender for the CM’s post. Despite his infamous tiff with the CPI-M central leadership during his last stint as CM when he was unceremoniously dropped from the politburo and was initially denied the party ticket in 2011 till the CPI-M leadership had to yield to the public outcry in the state (subsequently he won his seat), the fact remains that Achuthanandan is CPI-M’s tallest leader in the state. Of the 32 members who had left the CPI National Council to form the CPI(M) in 1964, he is the only Keralite still alive! This time, he is contesting as the LDF candidate from Malampuzha in Palakkad district.

Pinarayi Vijayan’s Prospects

Yet, the road to chief ministership, in case the LDF wins, is not easy for Achuthanandan either. He faces a stiff challenge from his colleague and CPI(M) politiburo member, Pinarayi Vijayan. Already a ticket to the former has exposed the faction war between the two camps in the party. Vijayan’s credentials, too, are strong since he was the longest serving secretary of the Kerala unit of CPI(M) from 1998 to 2015. After having kept himself away from electoral politics all these years, he has jumped into the fray this time and is contesting from Dharmadam in Kannur district.

There are already much speculations over whether Pinnarayi will be the LDF’s CM candidate. His rivalry with Achuthanandan is being openly talked about this time and as local Congress leader VD Satheesan said, “Achuthanandan is accepted by the people of Kerala because he has created an anti-Pinarayi attitude”. Obviously, the Congress-led Opposition is going all out to gain maximum mileage out of the internal squabbling within the LDF by playing up the Achuthanandan – Vijayan rift. The latter clearly emerges as the Opposition’s punching bag that is keen to project him as “arrogant” and “unacceptable” to the people as a CM.

O. Rajagopal

With a turf war within both the UDF and the LDF, can the BJP-led NDA benefit from the situation? As it is, the BJP is yet to open its account in the Kerala Assembly. However, an improved performance in the state by the saffron brigade in the last couple of years does make it optimistic of gaining enough grounds in the state this time. It banks on the charisma of veteran O. Rajagopal.

The octogenarian leader, in his long political innings, had contested and lost over half a dozen elections, including four defeats in the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. This seems his last chance as he contests from Nemom assembly constituency. As far as the Chief Ministership for him is concerned, it remains a pipedream, unless the NDA proves everyone wrong and create history in Kerala this elections.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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