The verdict of the elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry is a mixed bag of political messages that will be deciphered and analysed in detail in the next few weeks. While the incumbency factor led to the defeat of the AIADMK and the victory of DMK in Tamil Nadu, it helped the ruling Left Democratic Front to return to power with enhanced numerical strength. The TMC-led government in West Bengal, despite the humongous threat from the BJP, has been able to negate the incumbency factor with remarkable agility and assertiveness. Assam too has given the ruling party another term. The decimation of the Congress and the rebuffing of the BJP in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and of course in Kerala have national ramifications. Though the encrypted political message in these results will be clearer only after a while, there are certain unmistakable moral lessons.
Political rhetoric, particularly during elections, is tailor-made to suit the local situations and motivated by the sole consideration of catalysing their candidates’ victory. What is relevant in Assam may be irrelevant in Kerala. Although in love and war (and elections), ethics get compromised, yet there are certain ground rules that are seldom broken even during polls (At least there used to be). However, of late we have witnessed civility ebbing in election campaigns and political morality being waylaid by shameless considerations and lust for power. In the latest elections however, the voters have finally woken up to assert their sense of political morality. Incumbency fatigue, even administrative lapses and the calculated nudge by manipulated media have had no effect on the poll verdict. On the other hand, a set of refreshing moral parameters seems to have evolved in the collective consciousness of the electorate.
Like any individual, every society too oscillates between the mean and the lofty; the selfish and the selfless. Normally the decision to vote for a candidate is influenced by narrow considerations of party loyalty, caste or other identities, regional considerations or the relative ‘benefits.’ Larger interests of the society, communal amity, social equity and democratic values of freedom and fairness seldom have much influence in electoral choices. They are often relegated as impersonal and impractical ideals having no import at the micro-level. As the campaigns cascade, these ‘small’ interests gain momentum and assume a critical mass on the polling day.
However, these election results signify the voters’ readjustments to larger and lofty ideals than ever before. The results vouch that the West Bengal electorate has categorically rejected the politics of divisiveness and ‘otherness’. Mamata Banerjee’s government may not be faultless but the electorate would prefer it to its projected alternative. The collective mind of the electorate rejects certain ideas as undesirable and unacceptable when they go against the accepted self-image of that society. The heart of the society revolts to redeem its cherished identity and image when the gravitational pull of an alien ideology becomes overpowering. When the secular and tolerant image of Bengal was threatened, this recoil was bound to happen.
The same matrix can be applied to the poll outcome in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Tamil Nadu, it is the reassertion of Dravidian identity and honour that has manifested as the present verdict, notwithstanding the widespread impression about the unedifying record of the earlier DMK regime. However, nothing is more important to a people than their identity, honour and shared values which, when threatened with the onslaught of unfamiliar ideas breeding negativity and exclusion, asserts itself through electoral opportunity.
Kerala has a political record of alternating between the two fronts every five years. This record of four decades has been broken and the LDF government has returned to power with a two-thirds majority and more seats than before. Moreover, most of the winning candidates of the LDF have an impressive majority, which too is a significant factor. For the past few months, there have been a slew of investigations by the CBI, NIA and ED arising from a gold smuggling case implicating certain functionaries in key positions. Courts too have been asking inconvenient questions about the unending investigations that reach nowhere.
The general perception is that all these high-voltage investigations were designed with the political purpose of embarrassing the state government that was already fatigued after two floods, the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic and administrative trauma. That kind of hitting below the belt was unpardonable even by the ethics of political combativeness. The politically conscious electorate of Kerala had to record its seal of disapproval of this political immorality. The social consciousness of Kerala asserted its preference for political morality and civility by renewing the mandate to the LDF government and rebuffing the virus of amoral politics.
As the whole country is living in anxiety and witnessing the suffering and death of several hundreds of innocent people, it is but natural that the human heart begins to feel for the other. Even before the society and the economy have come out of the stress of last year’s lockdown, the second wave of the pandemic has begun to maul our lives. This is a moment in history where people tend to look beyond themselves and feel the anguish of others. People realise that several thousands share the same financial stress and emotional trauma. When human sensitivities are heightened, lofty ideas gain acceptance over vainglorious thoughts and ideologies of discord. We live in such a moment in history, where compassion, shared feelings and selfless notions influence a society’s thinking more than arrogance and acrimony.
Former Kerala chief secretary and ex-VC, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam Varsity