GTA5

Street smart

Riding on the pandemic and a spate of earlier natural disasters, Pinarayi Vijayan has once again emerged as Kerala’s choicest leader. Naturally, theories are galore over what led the LDF government retain power.

It ranges from iron-willed crisis management, distribution of free grocery kits and welfare pensions to tactics successfully employed by the LDF to shore up the anti-RSS, BJP votes in its favour. Nobody seems to have spared a thought about what could have possibly gone wrong with the opposition.

Self-introspection or soul searching is what the opposition badly needs after such a colossal loss. But, to interpret a second consecutive term for LDF in power as a testimony to the political bankruptcy of the opposition would be missing the wood for the trees.

Pinarayi accused the opposition — let us consider it as a single block— of being cynical and anti-people, and asked them to cooperate with the government during the pandemic; however, it warrants a close look at how the opposition parties did protest against the misuse of power, moral-political depravity and nepotism charges against the LDF government. Interestingly, the LDF government had attracted more charges than any other government in the past.

What Pinarayi first robbed the opposition of in the name of pandemic was the right to access streets — the traditional public forum, the only place where protestors meet en mass to air their grievances. It’s by looking at these street protests that the public usually picks sides. Since streets are the only place where protestors find an edge over the establishment, rebels stand a better chance to win the public’s adulation than cronies of power. That’s why rulers deign to broker peace with protestors on the streets at the earliest. And the Left knows this better than anybody else.

The LDF strike against solar scam by choking the thoroughfares around the state secretariat for days on end and the violent protests against former finance minister K M Mani in connection with bar bribery allegations are vivid examples that proved how tantalizingly close the streets and corridors of power are. It’s not any final verdict by any probe agency that made voters believe that Solar Scam was a blot on Oommen Chandy government and bar bribery allegations against K M Mani were convincing ones. If it was the vociferous and violent protests by the LDF that swept out the UDF from power, the lack of opportunity to hit the streets must be the single major reason that went against the opposition this time.

“Press conferences and television debates are not alternative forms of public protest is what the election verdict proves. Had the UDF been able to agitate on the streets, it could also have led to the mobilisation of party workers and political energy. That energy would have certainly passed seamlessly into the subsequent election campaign as well’’, says K T Rammohan, a leading social scientist and former dean, School of Social Sciences, M G University.

On the other hand, ‘walking the talk’ in pandemic management, Pinarayi had gone for an image makeover that even the most PR-conscious would envy. “Rulers around the world use public relations to make their image appear better than the reality. The LDF government has deployed advisers and advertisements to achieve this goal. The majority of the population is carried away by the image rather than the reality and that is the reason for its success’’, says former Indian diplomat T P Sreenivasan.

As the image makeover exercise continued on one side, whoever that took to the streets were blamed as `merchants of death’ and cases were slapped on them using non-bailable provisions under the disaster management act. A medical need was misused for political ends — the opposition was denied a level playing field.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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