Come May, and if everything goes as planned, Kerala will go to polls along with its neighbouring state Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. The battle will be fierce in Kerala for the CPI (M) as it will try to hold on to power, for the Congress as it will attempt to get its 'turn' after five years, and for the BJP which will strive to make inroads into the southern state.
The ruling Left Democratic Front is in a tough spot following investigations by various central agencies in an unprecedented fashion after the unearthing of a gold smuggling racket at the Thiruvananthapuram airport under the pretext of diplomatic baggage.
Here is a list of a dozen issues that the CPI (M), which assumed office with the slogan 'Everything will be fine once LDF comes to power', faces.
1. Rising sons
There is nothing fresh in an allegation against Bineesh Kodiyeri, son of CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, as his name was featured in many scandals in the last decade. However, the arrest of the 36-year- old by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday in a case of funding to a drug peddler prompted thousands of the activists and supporters of the party to go silent. The party leadership will have a tough time explaining this matter to the cadres, especially the youth who were active in the "Be human, say no to intoxication" campaign in February.
2.Importance of being Sivasankar
The fall of M Sivasankar, one of the most illustrious and creative IAS officers in the state, to disgrace was beyond anybody's wild imagination. His arrest by the ED on charges of money laundering and the listing as the fifth accused in the gold smuggling case has raised many questions on his role as the principal secretary to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. It has to be noted that state secretaries of both CPI (M) and CPI had sent a word of caution about him during the days of the Sprinklr controversy in April. However, the CM had put his weight behind his man Friday.
3. Mission without life
For Pinarayi Vijayan, the Life Mission project has been a dear one ever since he assumed office in 2016. It was floated to build houses for the homeless and landless using funds from all kinds of sponsorships, with the state government providing the land. However, after the statement of Swapna Suresh, the accused in the gold smuggling case, the element of commission in the Life Mission project came to light and the CBI has started an inquiry into the deals starting from a project in Thrissur district.
4. Jobs for sale
The credibility of the state Public Service Commission (PSC), one of the biggest in the country in terms of the examinations and the number of members (15), is under scrutiny after key accused in a murder attempt case, who had several police cases against them and failed to pass their respective university examinations, secured top ranks in the PSC examination. Following the revelation that those three candidates admitted to malpractice, the Kerala High Court noted that a wider investigation into the discrepancies was necessary. The three were former leaders of the Students' Federation of India (SFI).
5. A for Ayyappa
The entry of two women into Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, following the Supreme Court verdict on customs on the hill shrine in 2018, had a serious impact on the state administration and CPI(M). On an analysis of the trends in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it can be noted that a substantial amount of votes from its support base eroded in at least 10 LS seats, which hold 70 assembly seats. Though the matter is under the consideration of the Supreme Court the embers are still hotter in the believer's arena.
6. Salary challenge
Amid the mounting protests, the government brought in an ordinance, which empowers the state to cut salaries of government employees during emergencies, as the state is heading for a financial crisis amid the 2020 lockdown. Despite the pleas from various quarters, the government was adamant on its stand that it would not exempt healthcare workers or the state police force from the salary cut. The efforts from some corners to paint those who raised a protest by burning the order, especially the teaching community, as overpaid, antagonised them. The ordinance came as the Supreme Court had upheld a Kerala High Court order that stayed the government move to collect letters of unwillingness from employees who did not wish to contribute to the “salary challenge” that was set up in the wake of the floods in August 2018. It has to be noted that only around 60 per cent of the employees took up the challenge in 2018.
7. Floodgates and funds
In March, hardly a month before the second 'salary challenge', a couple of CPM workers in Kochi were held by the Crime Branch for siphoning off Rs 15 lakh meant for flood relief. The opposition alleged that it could only be the tip of the iceberg as this exposed the local CPM leaders and a section of government employees. Moreover, there were reports of hundreds of families still awaiting due compensation after the 2018 floods.
8. Two comrades and UAPA
Two students, Thaha Fazal, a journalism student, and Alan Shuhaib, a law student, arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in November last year for their alleged Maoist links, had to spend 10 months in jail before a special NIA court granted them bail. The two, in their early twenties, and members of CPI(M)’s branch committee, had been expelled by the party after their arrest. There was widespread condemnation, the pro-Left and Muslim community in public, and a silent protest by the party insiders, following their arrest with questions on the state administration's integrity on the rule in implementing such acts.
9. Tainted father and a holy son
The swift and smooth entry of the Kerala Congress faction led by Rajya Sabha member Jose K Mani into LDF in October 2020 is interesting because the CPI(M) had led an agitation against his father KM Mani in the alleged bar bribery scandal, one of the key issues highlighted in 2016 assembly polls. As finance minister in the previous UDF government, Mani had been accused of pocketing bribes from liquor barons for renewing bar licences by the LDF. The LDF, then in opposition, raised the matter and disrupted Mani’s Budget presentation in 2015, the last in his lifetime, which led to the most unruly scenes in the history of the floor of the house. This led to Mani's unceremonious exit from the political career spanning six decades with the resignation later that year.
10. Reservation row
The state government's decision to implement 10 per cent reservation in government jobs for the economically weaker section (EWS) among the forward communities has created sharp divisions among the caste, religious and political organisations. Besides the Muslim community, the SNDP Yogam, an organisation of numerically strong backward Hindu Ezhava community and has an allegiance to CPM and Left, has also opposed the way the new policy is being implemented in the state. Apart from this, the pro-Left-liberals also have questioned the merit of this. It has to be noted that the majority of those, from Hindu and Christian divisions, who would benefit from this new policy has an inclination to either BJP or Congress.
11. Not everything is open in this university
The appointment to top posts in the newly formed Sree Narayana Guru Open University has landed in a controversy. A collective of education activists and academics has petitioned governor Arif Mohammad Khan against the appointments. According to the petition, Mubarak Pasha, who was recommended by the government to the vice-chancellor’s post, lacks the qualifications prescribed by the UGC. There is one more issue, the resentment from SNDP which considers Guru as the spiritual leader, in the appointment of a Muslim as the vice-chancellor.
12. Who killed the Covid combat?
The curious case of handling of Covid in the state which was once hailed as a model one will be another important issue in the polls. Various aspects of this period include 'premature celebration' in the first few months, alleged mishandling of Covid patients, rape of a patient in an ambulance to the allegation that opposition strikes led to a spike in cases will be discussed in the polls as the state tops in the biggest jump in number of cases in the country while writing this.