By TJS George
Something extraordinary happened in Kerala last week. It is a State that was taken over quite some time ago by time-servers in public life, corruption kings and one-man parties with names that incorporate the leader’s own name (Kerala Congress-M, for K.M.Mani, Kerala Congress-B, for Balakrishna Pillai). As for Communism, Kerala remains the last lingering toe-hold although the kind of communism on display might confuse even Deng Xiaoping.
Such a twisted political landscape was suddenly enlivened by a first-in-the-world idea that could well prove contagious. “Loka Kerala Sabha” brought on one platform the Kerala diaspora that famously covers all nooks and corners of the world (and of the Moon, they say.) When it was announced, the idea attracted scepticism. It was expected to be no more than a get-together of wealthy Malayalees in the Gulf with the State’s politicians and officials. But the bulk of the delegates turned out to be scientists and scholars, barrier-breaking doctors, innovators, institution-builders and academics. Notable among them was an illiterate labourer whose incredible sufferings in the Gulf deserts under cruel employers had inspired the most celebrated novel in Malayalam in recent years.
Not that such facts softened the cynicism of critics. Who can blame them? The gap between promises and achievements had been wide irrespective of which party and which leader was in power. The Loka Sabha saw a hundred ideas coming up, all of them imaginative and practical. Even if ten of them are implemented, the State would set a model to the rest of the country. Wisps of hope rose from the fact that the Loka Sabha idea came from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who therefore has a stake in its success. He is also known as the strongest leader the CPM has had.
Will that bring results? He has given the right signals. He publicly accepted many of the suggestions that came up and pledged follow-up action. As the first step towards getting things done, he said a separate Secretariat would be set up to oversee the Loka Sabha’s proposals, with separate Commissions to work out the details. He gave the impression that he had the will to do it. He certainly has the power.
If doubts still persist, it must be attributed to Kerala’s history of obstructionist politics. Even Indira Gandhi was more circumspect about projecting her dynasty than the aforesaid K.M. Mani and Balakrishna Pillai are in getting their sons crowned. Highly controversial Congress Minister T.M. Jacob’s inexperienced son became a Minister only because he was his father’s son. A son like Sachin Pilot gets public acceptance because of his ability, but a daughter like Padmaja is spurned by voters because her sole “qualification” is being former strongman K. Karunakaran’s daughter.
The farcical depth to which dynasticism has fallen in Kerala is exemplified by the leader of the SNDP, the social organisation meant to project the ideals of the revered Narayana Guru. Vellapalli, a wealthy toddy businessman, turned SNDP into his personal vehicle. Floating a political outfit with the mouthful name Bharath Dharma Jana Sena, he projected his son as a Minister candidate. They joined the BJP-led NDA, but no breadcrumbs came their way. So they quit the NDA and the son, without any sense of shame, said his outfit would collaborate with any party for power. There are no takers yet.
Political clowns flourish when values have no role. Few parties suffered more than the Congress because of the loss of values. From Karunakaran’s time the Congress had become a time-serving organisation. A.K. Antony flaunted high values but, as Chief Minister and later as Defence Minister, became a meaningless leader because he would take no decision lest his personal reputation for purity be spoiled. Oommen Chandy defined governance by the number of people who crowded around him at any given moment. All this when the Congress has several leaders respected by the people for their integrity. Neither they nor the very capable young leaders waiting in the wings are allowed to come up.
Leaders past the use-by date, selfish family patriarchs, blatant opportunists of power-at-any-cost, parties like Sharad Pawar’s NCP, all add up to a circus where the communists look at least like a disciplined party. Except that the bourgeois communism of the CPM is poles apart from the relatively proletarian communism of the CPI. In this atmosphere the realisation of any of the Loka Kerala Sabha’s ideas would be a miracle. If Pinarayi Vijayan proves that he is also a miracle man, the story of Kerala might open a whole new chapter.