US embassy cable - 06CHENNAI567

KERALA ELECTIONS: INFIGHTING SUSPENDED, RIVAL COALITIONS READY FOR POLLS

Identifier: 06CHENNAI567
Wikileaks: View 06CHENNAI567 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Chennai
Created: 2006-03-27 12:11:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PGOV PINR IN
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO2669
RR RUEHBI RUEHCI
DE RUEHCG #0567/01 0861211
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271211Z MAR 06
FM AMCONSUL CHENNAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7787
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1559
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 4717
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0464
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 1188
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 CHENNAI 000567 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, PINR, IN 
SUBJECT: KERALA ELECTIONS: INFIGHTING SUSPENDED, RIVAL 
COALITIONS READY FOR POLLS 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Communist-led Left Democratic 
Front poses a strong challenge to the ruling Congress- 
led United Democratic Front in the upcoming Kerala 
state assembly elections slated for April 22, 29 and 
May 3. Infighting, a perennial bane of the Congress 
party, has crept into the Communist party, too, 
opening up chances for unforeseen results, but on 
balance the Leftists seem to enjoy the upper hand. A 
Leftist victory could set back the clock on recent 
efforts to create a business-friendly climate in 
Kerala. End Summary. 
 
------------------------------------ 
BACKGROUND: TWO JOCKEYING COALITIONS 
------------------------------------ 
 
2. (SBU) Kerala politics is dominated by the 
traditional rivalry between two equally powerful 
coalitions, the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by 
the Congress party and the opposition Left Democratic 
Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India- 
Marxist(CPI-M).  Kept at bay by the coalitions, the 
BJP remains in the margins, unable to elect any 
legislator to the state assembly to date. 
 
3. (SBU) Ever since the coalitions took shape in the 
1980's, the UDF and the LDF have alternated in power. 
This pattern of anti-incumbent voting continued in the 
last assembly elections of 2001, when it was the turn 
of the UDF to trounce the opponents. Our interlocutors 
believe that the voters' recurrent anger towards the 
ruling parties is due to factors such as the incurably 
high (20 percent) unemployment rate of Kerala which 
has created a pool of frustrated youth, and the 
state's hyperactive media which effectively assumes an 
opposition role. 
 
4. (SBU) In the eight-party UDF, the Congress' junior 
partners are the Indian Union Muslim League (Muslims 
constitute 24 percent of Kerala's population) and a 
clutch of six other smaller parties or factions. 
Congress Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is the most 
prominent leader in the UDF but former Chief Minister 
A.K. Antony remains a significant player.  The LDF, 
also made up of eight parties, includes the CPI(M), 
the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Revolutionary 
Socialist Party (RSP) and other smaller parties. 
Additionally, the LDF has a tactical understanding 
with the Indian National League (INL), a party of 
Muslims.  Opposition Leader V.S. Achuthanandan, party 
State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, LDF Convener Paloli 
Mohammed Kutty, and Central Committee Member M.A. Baby 
are the top leaders of the CPI(M). 
 
---------------------------------------- 
ALLIES AT THE CENTER, OPPONENTS IN STATE 
---------------------------------------- 
 
5. (SBU) The Communist parties' support of the 
Congress-led government at the Center has not lessened 
Congress vs. Communist opposition at the state level 
in Kerala.  The CPI(M), however, has little difficulty 
in explaining this apparent paradox to its cadre. 
According to them, the common enemy BJP makes the UPA 
a necessary evil at the Center while at the state 
level, the BJP's electoral irrelevance rules out the 
need for such leniency. 
 
6. (SBU) The Communist parties' virulent opposition to 
GOI policies is in fact one of the principal election 
issues. For example, the GOI's perceived "capitulation 
to U.S. pressure" on Iran's nuclear program is a major 
theme of Leftist street-corner campaigns.  The 
Congress and its coalition partner Muslim League are 
visibly defensive:  Congress legislator K.V. Thomas 
explained to Post how the party leaders took pains to 
keep Sonia Gandhi away from the local media when she 
visited Kerala on March 4 for fear that any comment on 
the Iran issue might become the headline the next day. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
CONGRESS SPLIT AND REUNION: THE WHEEL COME FULL CIRCLE 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
7. (SBU) Acute factionalism within the Congress party 
had been the bane of the UDF government. As conflict 
between the camp followers of octogenarian Congress 
 
CHENNAI 00000567  002 OF 003 
 
 
leader Karunakaran and the then-Chief Minister A.K. 
Antony worsened in 2004, all the Congress party 
candidates suffered humiliating defeats in the Lok 
Sabha elections. This led to Antony's resignation as 
Chief Minister, paving the way for Oommen Chandy to 
take over.  Chandy hardened the stance against the 
rebels, prompting Karunakaran and his son 
Muraleedharan to quit the Congress with their 
followers to form the "Democratic Indira Congress- 
Karunakaran," (DIC-K).  In early 2006, Post contacts 
across the state, including Congress leaders, were 
unanimous that the UDF was facing a sure defeat in the 
upcoming 2006 elections. 
 
8. (SBU) Dashing the hopes of Karunakaran and son 
Muraleedharan, the CPI(M) decided to rebuff their bid 
to join the LDF.  On March 23, DIC(K) was forced to 
make a U-turn, signing an agreement with the Congress 
party and securing a modest share of 17 seats to 
contest out of the state's 140.  The DIC(K) agreement, 
which reportedly promises a merger with the parent 
party after the elections, has ended the worst of the 
feuding at the top level, but many district workers of 
the DIC(K) seem unwilling to digest the eleventh-hour 
capitulation.  The continuing discontent has taken the 
sheen off the "homecoming" of Karunakaran, although 
many believe the deal will be advantageous to the UDF 
in some constituencies. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
CREEPING DECADENCE: INFIGHTING ERUPTS IN CPI(M) 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
9. (SBU) While the Congress party was closing ranks, a 
faction dispute that had been simmering within the 
CPI(M) erupted.  Reacting angrily to the party 
decision not to field Opposition leader octogenarian 
V.S. Achuthanandan in the upcoming election, party 
workers took to the streets, some of them shocking the 
leaders by marching on the party offices.  In its 
Political Organizational Report, the CPI(M)'s 18th 
party Congress of April 2005 had expressed "serious 
concern at the persisting disunity and factional 
tendencies in Kerala", but no one seems to have 
expected it to spill-out so close to the elections. 
Clearly shaken by the popular reaction, the CPI(M) 
politburo changed its earlier stand and decided to 
field Achuthanandan in the elections, a move that has 
now embarrassed the "official" faction of the CPI(M) 
in Kerala.  CPI(M) (national) General Secretary 
Prakash Karat, fellow Politburo members Sitaram 
Yechury, R. Umanath and S. Ramachandran Pillai spent 
several hours on March 24 in back-to-back meetings 
with the State Committee and State Secretariat sorting 
out the issue and pacifying the dissidents. Key 
journalist sources in Kerala believe that the decision 
to bring back Achuthanandan to the electoral scene has 
brought the situation under control, although some do 
not rule out the possibility of leakage of votes. 
CPI(M) Central Committee Member M.A. Baby (protect) 
told Post: "the situation seems to be generally in 
favor of the LDF, although one cannot rule out 
undercurrents." 
 
10. (SBU) Achuthanandan's differences with CPI(M) 
State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan are mostly to do with 
the former's ambition to become the Chief Minister of 
Kerala and take total control of the party and the 
administration. Unlucky Achuthanandan was widely 
expected to become Chief Minister after the 1996 
elections, but his opponents within the party 
allegedly conspired for his defeat in the Mararikulam 
constituency. In 2001 elections, he won but the party 
lost.  83-year old Achuthanandan, who has studied only 
up to the 7th year in school, is widely considered an 
old generation communist strongly opposed to reform. 
His reputation as an honest politician has however won 
him many admirers inside and outside the party.  He 
also has strong support from his Hindu "Ezhava" caste, 
a dominant group within the CPI(M).  Achuthanandan had 
refused to publicly support Pinarayi Vijayan when 
Vijayan's alleged role as Minister for Power (1996-98) 
in awarding a $80 million power contract to Canadian 
company SNC Lavlin raised allegations of graft.  The 
controversial deal, criticized by the Comptroller and 
Auditor General, is now being investigated by the 
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). 
 
CHENNAI 00000567  003 OF 003 
 
 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
COMMENT: POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF LEFTIST VICTORY 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
11. (SBU) If Communist hardliner Achuthanandan 
succeeds in becoming the Chief Minister and his 
faction gains the upper hand in the CPI(M), Kerala's 
recent efforts to change the historically negative 
perceptions of its business climate are likely to 
receive a setback. For example, given his background, 
it will be unlikely for Achuthanandan to take a pro- 
business position on issues such as the pending Coca 
Cola dispute in Palakkad. He is also likely to reopen 
agreements such as the one between Kerala and the 
Dubai Internet City for an IT infrastructure project 
in Cochin.  Leftist rhetoric might take center-stage 
until the recurrently angry voters turn their ire once 
again on the Communists. 
 
12. (SBU) The Kerala electoral contest may not be as 
one-sided as it would have been a few months ago. 
However, the DIC(K)-Congress agreement has come rather 
too late in the day to inspire camaraderie among the 
Congress ranks.  On the LDF side, the CPI(M) has been 
prompt with its fire-fighting, thereby limiting the 
damage. On balance, the LDF seems to have an upper 
hand, although, as M.A. Baby pointed out, 
"undercurrents" cannot be ruled out. END COMMENT 
HOPPER 

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