The Opposition leaders refer to him derisively as “Kerala’s Modi” or “Copycat Modi”. This may be a classic case of sour grapes but there is no doubt that Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s ongoing poll campaign is not very different from that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As in the case of the Bharatiya Janata Party whose election campaigns revolve around Mr Modi, the Kerala Assembly election is all about Pinarayi Vijayan. Like Mr Modi, he invariably makes a rock star-like grand and dramatic entry at his election rallies and keeps the crowds engaged with his fiery speeches. The student and youth wings of the CPI(M) are deployed in large numbers at each venue to whip up passions and generally set the mood for Mr Vijayan’s arrival while chanting cadres line the roads leading to the podium. Often, a fireworks display is also part of the welcome drill. The puritanical CPI(M) cadres must be cringing as the cadre-based Left parties generally have an aversion to building a personality cult but given their political marginalisation, the Marxists have no choice but to accept that the party in Kerala has become a one-man show.
While Pinarayi Vijayan is on a roll, the Congress-led United Democratic Front is fighting hard to wrest the state from its chief political rival. However, it finds itself in trouble as doubts have arisen about its Christian support base.
Unlike the past elections, the various Christian factions are learned to have told Congress leaders that they will not issue any advisory to its followers to vote for the grand old party. Though it is not openly supporting any party, the Church will not issue an appeal in favour of any party. The Christian community has been partial to the Congress in the past but the BJP has also been wooing it, especially the Jacobite Syrian Christians and Catholics. The saffron party is weaning them away from the Congress by convincing the community that the Congress is taking them for granted and neglecting them in favour of Muslims and Hindus. On its part, the Church wants to safeguard its interests as it has land and other investments it has made across the state.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and Rajasthan chief minister are a study in contrast. Both were given special duties in the poll-bound-states — Mr Baghel was assigned to Assam and Mr Gehlot to Kerala. While Mr Baghel took on his assignment in mission mode, Mr Gehlot has only made a cursory visit to Kerala, evincing little or no interest in the election even though former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is focusing all his energies on the Kerala poll. Mr Gehlot maintains he is busy with the by-elections in Rajasthan but It is being joked that Mr Gehlot is scared to leave Jaipur for fear that his bete noire Sachin Pilot may start plotting against him in his absence. Mr Baghel, on the other hand, has barely left Assam, immersing himself in the election, providing both funds and manpower from his state. Mr Baghel, it is said, is working overtime to retain his “gaddi” as his rival T.S. Singh Deo was promised the chief minister’s post midway during the five-year term, which happens to be in May.
Keeping a firm eye on the crucial West Bengal Assembly polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a well-timed trip to Dhaka to mark fifty years of the liberation of Bangladesh. Though he did make a fleeting reference to Indira Gandhi’s role in liberating Bangladesh, Mr Modi managed to make the event all about him. The Congress, which should have and could have, made a big splash by recalling Indira Gandhi’s contribution to the neighbouring country’s freedom struggle, maintained a studied silence. In fact, Sonia Gandhi had even set up an in-house committee headed by former defence minister A.K. Antony and comprising senior leaders like Amarinder Singh and Prithviraj Chavan, to plan and coordinate the party’s programmes to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Bangladesh war. This was last December but nothing has been heard from this panel. It met once but no one knows what activities were drawn up by the committee. There has been radio silence since then.
There is no end to the twists and turns in the high-decibel West Bengal Assembly election. In fact, there is never a dull moment as charges and counter-charges between the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party fly thick and fast. In addition, violent clashes between their workers have become the order of the day. But over the past few days, the two parties have been locked in a battle over a “leaked internal election survey”, apparently commissioned by poll strategist Prashant Kishor, which shows that the Trinamul is losing. A gleeful BJP has obviously gone to town with this revelation but Mr Kishor’s outfit, IPAC, has tied itself in knots issuing a series of denials about its involvement in this survey. It is insisting that this is the handiwork of the BJP’s dirty tricks department or its IT cell.