Kerala politics is at a crossroads. An era is possibly ending where two broad united fronts contested for ascendancy in the state's limited political space and more or less regularly alternated as the ruling alliance through the past three decades.
But change never comes easy. More often, it is accompanied by commotion. Especially, when a whole slice of the past threatens to break away.
Thus, on focus is the support extended by the People's Democratic Party led by Abdul Nasser Madani to the candidates of the Left Democratic Front in the forthcoming parliamentary election in Kerala.
Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have launched a vitriolic attack on the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which leads the LDF, on this score. The noise is deafening.
They are levelling the criticism that the PDP is a fundamentalist outfit with links to terrorism, and drawing support from it is inconsistent with the CPI-M's stance on communalism and terrorism. The media in Kerala, which is virulently anti-Communist by tradition, is multiplying the cacophony.
A sense of unreality is developing -- which obfuscates the real templates of the political earthquake. As often happens, beneath the veneer of high-sounding principles, a grim political battle has been joined. The outcome of this battle holds the potential to redraw the map of Kerala's electoral politics.
There is no question that at the moment, for the Congress, PDP is indeed anathema, but that is for an entirely different reason than what the party proclaims. Let it be noted at the outset that this is not a Kurukshetra involving secularists and fundamentalists. Nor is it about "Islamic terrorism".
Indeed, the current Congress leadership in Kerala had cogitated with Madani as far back as 2001 and was prepared to consort with him in terms of striking a political deal when he was incarcerated in a Coimbatore prison. Conceivably, at that point eight years ago, Madani was much closer in time to his controversial past than he is today. But that didn't deter the Congress leadership.
Congress' doublespeak is quite apparent.
But the Congress leadership in Kerala chose to be pragmatic, fully conscious of Madani's influence in swaying the opinion of the Muslim electorate.
It was also not as if the party's pragmatism was entirely devoid principles. Actually, Congress governments at the Centre over the past six decades have consistently espoused the cause that in India's democratic polity, there would be space available for any militant groups or elements which were prepared to take to the path of peaceful resolution of differences.
Successive Congress-led governments pursued dialogue with the militants in the north-eastern region who used to hold Kalshnikovs.
Without doubt, if there is to be enduring peace in Jammu & Kashmir, there is no alternative but to encourage the militant elements to enter the democratic way of life. That was why Kashmiri leaders like Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik who had a violent past since became interlocutors for Congress-led governments in Delhi.
So, what is Congress party's problem with Madani today?
Of course, no one is making out a case that allegations against Madani should be overlooked or brushed under the carpet. If there is actionable evidence, it must be investigated. Arguably, that is an imperative of national security.
Madani himself demands an inquiry into allegations against him so that he gets an opportunity to vindicate himself. He has said that he is perfectly willing to undergo any punishment if he is found guilty.
So, why can't the law take its due course? After all, we always take pride in the rule of law as a distinguishing feature of our country.
The heart of the matter is that the Madani poses a political challenge to the Congress. The plain truth is that Congress fears that any erosion of the Muslim support for the Congress-led United Democratic Front could prove decisive in tilting the delicate political balance in favour of the LDF in the election on April 16.
This is the spectre that is haunting the Congress.
The Congress in Kerala is at its wit's end that the social contract on which it blithely made political capital all these decades is threatening to unravel and that may start a historical slide similar to what the party underwent in Uttar Pradesh and the so-called Hindi belt with the advent of Mandal politics.
The best bet for the Congress is that its alliance partner, the Muslim League, ably counters the challenge thrown by Madani. But then, the Muslim League is an increasingly discredited party. More and more, sections of the Muslim community are militating against the Muslim league leadership's corrupt politics. A growing number of Muslims -- especially the youth, women, intellectuals and professionals -- are able to see through the Muslim League leadership's exploitation of communal politics for perpetuating their vested interests.
In effect, therefore, the kind of social contract which paid rich dividends to the Congress electorally all these past three decades is eroding. As Madani put it, even if CPI-M leaders do not seek his support, he is bent on supporting the LDF candidates in the upcoming election and as he is opposed to the Muslim League tooth and nail.
Equally, BJP commentators have entered the melee and have joined forces with the Congress in the polemical attack on the CPI-M. This creates a larger-than-life impression about what the BJP represents in Kerala. In actuality, the BJP is a miniscule entity that fails to inspire leave alone possess the teeth to bite.
Moreover, even in its infancy, BJP already suffers from chronic symptoms of old age like vicious groupism.
A respected, honourable figure like former minister O Rajagopal pleaded ill health and backed out of the electoral contest in Thiruvananthapuram where he polled over 2 lakh votes in the 2004 election, rather than allow himself to be made a laughing stock by being undercut by his own party's leadership on April 16.
The BJP's role in the Madani controversy is essentially in the nature of a bird of prey that ultimately looks forward to feasting on carcasses. It has a lot to gain if the UDF disintegrates and the Congress enters the dark tunnel of inexorable decline. The hard reality of Kerala's communal politics is that the BJP's rise to stardom invariably lies through the graveyard of the UDF -- and the Congress in particular.
The street smart BJP commentators, therefore, shrewdly expect that any Hindu backlash that may result from Congress' anti-Madani tirade will ultimately work in their favour. They estimate that such gravitation may take time, but BJP will be the beneficiary.
What the BJP crow is doing is to sit on the tree braches and keep crowing, pinning hopes that in the titanic struggle for political space taking place on the turf below, fatigue develops and one side falls. That will be the time for the scavenger to descend on the grand, delightful feast. After all, a crow is not an eagle and it must wait till a carcass presents itself.
The writer, who doesn't want to be named, is a Kerala-based activist of the Left Democratic Front.