During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it would have been a bit easy for the voters to decide since elections happened immediately after the Sabarimala agitation. For the 2021 Kerala Assembly polls, both UDF and LDF are facing each other hoping to gain power with flying colours. However, the Assembly elections seem to be affecting the LDF’s chances to maintain power, as Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala has unearthed a series of corruption charges against the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, LDF won 91 seats, while UDF secured only 47 seats and BJP bagged just one — Nemom. However, this time, it would be difficult for the LDF government to overcome hurdles, as the list of corruption charges is very long.
Even before the announcement of elections, Kerala woke up to new corruption details every day. The list of shady deals of the Kerala government during the term includes the brewery-distillery scandal, the E-Mobility deal with a Swiss company, deals with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the Sprinklr deal, the Pampa sand removal deal.
Two data-related issues in the last five years include the Kerala police’s CIMS programme and the Sprinklr deal. The latter gained traction following the news that the Kerala government had engaged in a deal with the US-based company Sprinklr to analyse the collected data of those under coronavirus treatment. The Kerala police’s controversial programme — CIMS — to “provide services to monitor burglary, accidents, residential alarms and CCTV and take relevant action on an immediate basis” was in the thick of a CAG audit as the police force and Keltron had “arbitrarily given the contract to private company Galaxon as the authorised vendor for surveillance equipment for the project”. Relating to the police, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had unsuccessfully tried to bring into effect the controversial Police Act amendment, which would have given the police and the state power to control various media and the content they publish.
Above this, the sensational Gold Smuggling case, Dollar smuggling case and Vadakkanchery Life Mission case. Towards the end of their tenure, the LDF government witnessed one of the largest protests by PSC rank holders against the state's backdoor appointments. The most recent prominent allegation against the state would include Rs 5,324 Crore worth EMCC India-Kerala government deals allowing deep-sea fishing in the state. In the allegation's initial stages, ministers Mercykutty Amma and EP Jayarajan denied the claims and said that the deals didn’t exist. After evidence came to the fore, the state government was forced to cancel the “non-existent deals”. The proposed project against fisheries policy has suddenly stoked fire along with the coast and fishermen community.
Now, the latest addition to the list is the double votes exposed by the Opposition Leader and the Pinarayi-Adani deal to purchase solar had rattled the Pinarayi government.
When the corruption controversies were gaining wide attention, the Pinarayi-led LDF government was trying hard to turned calamities- floods, Nipah and Covid-19 into the biggest political opportunities to project an image of kindness and efficiency through free ration and provision kits. The government seemed to believe that their victory during the just concluded local body polls was entirely based on Pinarayi’s welfare schemes. They even hoped that these so-called acts of kindness towards the people would act as unbreakable armour against the gravest corruptions.
Amidst this, the government resorted to different strategies to woo voters. The government not only increased monthly pensions, they even made sure that the money reached the beneficiaries’ front doors. The act ended up in controversy while building their image over welfare pension distribution. On March 31, they tried to distribute social welfare pensions amidst postal voting. Reportedly, the officials who reached a house in Kayamkulam along with police to register the postal vote of an 80-year-old woman were accompanied by bank officials to distribute the pension. The visuals of the incident that surfaced on social media show that the official promising them that if the Pinarayi government continues to rule, there will be an increase in pension amount. The incident had ignited another controversy.
Meanwhile, former Kerala Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Oommen Chandy had already pointed out that the Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) claim on pension and free food kits was incorrect. The senior Congress leader had also said that the government’s claims of giving pensions to 34 to 54 lakh people were not credible as several pension applications are still pending. “It is not the number of people who buy pensions but the number of pensions that are being propagated,” Chandy said.
Throughout the election campaign, the row over women's entry into the Sabarimala temple has been the central stage. The hard-line stance taken by the Left government following the Supreme Court order on September 28, 2018, allowing women of all ages to enter the hill shrine had already affected the religious sentiments of Hindus. The government's decision to implement SC’s verdict after the tug-of-war with devotees of Lord Ayyappa sparked a wildfire that affected the party during the 201 general elections, where the LDF lost 19 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala.
It is not clear whether these corruptions and allegations will work on the voters. However, the Pinarayi-led government has a lot to worry about when voters step out to cast their votes on April 6. Even though the LDF leadership has befittingly replied to all the controversies, some of the claims are high and serious. Around 27,446,039 voters will decide the fate of Kerala on April 6 when the 140-member Kerala Legislative Assembly goes to the polls.