Congress in Kerala loses the Perception Battle


 By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Overkill does not pay in politics. That is the bitter lesson the Congress and the party-led Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) is learning at a heavy cost.
The Congress’s attempt to extract undue political advantage from the Students Federation of India (DSFI)’s attack on Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi’s office has not only failed but has started backfiring. The diminishing returns from the so-called movement has rattled and baffled the Congress. In the process, the party and the UDF have considerably weakened their case.  It has exposed the agitation and the hidden agenda behind it.

The Congress and the UDF were trying to achieve through the violence-marred agitation what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to pull off through the blatant misuse of central investigation agencies: the destabilization of the CPI(M)headed Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. A bigger loss for the Congress and the UDF is that it has lost the perception battle too. People have seen through the nefarious game of the Front. The widespread violence the party unleashed across the State and the violent tactics adopted by party leaders has alienated a large chunk of the people who were otherwise sympathetic to their cause.
This is in glaring contrast to the mature way the LDF has handled the entire issue.  The Front and the Chief Minister realized the damage potential of the attack on Rahul’s office. They took the wind out of the opposition’s sails by promptly condemning the SFI attack. All top leaders of the CPI(M) – Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran among them –  denounced the SFI’s thoughtless action  in no  uncertain terms.
The Government did not stop at mere condemnation. It promptly suspended Kalpeta DYSP for failing to provide adequate security to Rahul Gandhi’s office. The CM also directed police headquarters ADGP Manoj Abraham to probe the incident and submit his report within a week.  Last but not the least, as many as 24 SFI workers and leaders were taken into custody for questioning.  Police have hinted at more arrests. The SFI leaders were summoned to the AKG Bhavan and subjected to a dressing down. They were also asked to take deterrent action against the culprits.
The quick action took the Congress and the UDF by surprise. The people saw the difference in approach of the two fronts to attacks on party offices. The LDF leaders have always condemned attacks on party offices. That was not the LDF’s policy, averred both Pinarayi and Kanam.
Now, what did the Congress and UDF do when three Youth Congress leaders tried to assault the Chief Minister aboard a plane? They not only refused to condemn the incident, but tried to justify it. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K Sudhakartan went to the extent of saying that they were ‘our boys’ and we would protect them! As if this was not enough, Congress leaders refused to condemn the attack against the office of CPI(M)’s official daily Deshabhimani by party workers.  In fact, it is such unacceptable justification of violence which has emboldened Congress workers to unleash violence through their agitation.
The Congress leaders’ propaganda that SFI workers had destroyed an image of Mahatma Gandhi at Rahul Gandhi’s office also proved to be wrong. Photographs taken by cameramen after SAFI workers were ousted from Rahul’s office clearly showed that the Gandhi photo was very much intact and on the wall. It became clear that it was a mean tactics by Congress activists to blame the SFI and take undue advantage of the incident. When a pro-left newsperson told Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan that it was Congress workers who vandalized the Mahatma’s image, Satheesan lost his cool and threatened to throw out the reporter! The incident proved if proof were needed that Congress leaders have lost their composure and have no control over their rank and file who resorted to widespread violence, embarrassing .Congress and other UDF leaders who are at a loss to explain the unruly behaviour of their cadres.
That said, the CPI(M) has to be careful in future to see that there is no recurrence of the kind of violence indulged in by its student wing. Deterrent action must be taken against the guilty leaders. It is extremely important to send a message that violence will not be tolerated. That it has already initiated action is reassuring. It is a matter of regret that Congress leaders have not learnt any lessons from the unfortunate episode. That is evident from their statements which show the party’s intent to ratchet up tension. But they must realize such negative tactics do not serve any purpose. If anything, it will further harm their cause. True, peaceful protests are the right of a political party. But when the protests turn violent, the party and the front that organize such protests will have to pay a heavy penalty in political and electoral terms. The sooner the Congress and the UDF realizes this, the better for them. (IPA )