Kerala has for long been the sick state of India, politics for the sake of politics dominating all of life, traditional strengths ebbing away and new strengths finding no avenues to develop. It is a state where the moment is mistaken for eternity. Last week the mother of all street protests created records even by Kerala's standards. The capital city of Trivandrum overflowed with crowds such as it had never seen before. They were responding to the Left parties' call to lay siege to the Secretariat until the Chief Minister resigned and faced a judicial inquiry into cheating scams centred round his office. The massive crowds were surprisingly disciplined, too. In so charged an atmosphere one little spark could have set off a conflagration. But the Left parties ensured that nothing untoward happened. The police did likewise. Then, 36 hours into the confrontation, the Left leadership called off the siege and asked its cadres to go home. What happened?
In the political theatre that is Kerala, what happens does not really happen sometimes, and what does not happen often happens. So both sides won and both sides lost. The Left won because the Chief Minister agreed to hold a judicial inquiry; they lost because he refused to resign. In reverse, the Chief Minister lost where the Left won, and won where they lost. The Chief Minister's victory was the sweeter. His resignation was the Left's primary demand and they didn't get it. On the other hand, given the story of judicial commissions in our country, what the Left won was a dubious victory. Oomen Chandy proved yet again that he was a master of political machinations with no one in his party or outside to match his cunning.
Victories won by cunning, however, lack substance. Underneath were deeper issues that mattered and an examination of these will show that both the Chief Minister and the Left coalition lost rather heavily. Major segments of the Congress party and almost all the coalition partners that sustain the Government came out in open criticism of the Chief Minister. They complained about his secretive, unilateral moves, about his calling central armed forces and putting them up in the city's colleges, about unseen hands in Government issuing notices to hotels, tourist homes and taxi cars not to serve visitors; even public toilets were ordered closed. The expression of coalition solidarity for public consumption did not hide the fact that his own party factions and coalition partners now saw Chandy as a political liability. The electoral prospects of the Congress have hit rock bottom. The High Command will eventually have to address the problem and take steps to salvage what it can.
The setback the Left suffered, especially the CPM as the lead partner, was more grievous. The abrupt termination of so massive a protest programme triggered the suspicion of a deal between the CPM and the Government. This was backed by a telltale puzzle here and purported taped conversations there. While the Left had declared from housetops that they would block all the four gates of the Secretariat and would not let a soul in, they in fact blocked only three gates. There was not even a pretension to lay siege to the fourth which remained under police control and through which ministers and Secretariat employees went to their offices without any trouble. To this day there has been no explanation for this convenient breach that defeated the very purpose of the siege. What happened?
The present condition of the state gives one answer. Once famous around the world for its health and educational services, Kerala is today deficit in both. Home to a flattering number of rivers, it now watches them die under the onslaught of sand-political mafia. Quarry-political mafia flattens hills causing land slides. Diseases are persisting. Agriculture is in shambles. Roads, always a shame, have now become so pathetic that bus companies are on strike in some places. In this historical procession of good turning bad and bad going worse, who really wins? In the sick state of India, all lose.