Why I will not vote today in Kerala

But like Delhi, Pondicherry is an exception to the rule, and has an elected legislature.



Today, on May 16, the South Indian provinces of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala will make a line for the ballot box. Bengal and Assam have finished their dance with democracy earlier. The results are yet to be announced.
I have never been to Pondicherry, which is a Union Territory of India, rather than a state. That means the Governor rules the place. But like Delhi, Pondicherry is an exception to the rule, and has an elected legislature.
Pondicherry's streets and architecture are more French than Tamil, as it was a French territory. It came into Indian Union in 1963. Pondicherry has been mostly polarised between the Congress party and the native DMK, and offshoots of the original DMK.
Part of the Pondicherry, consisting of four non-contiguous provinces, lies in Mahe in North Kerala. On occasions I have travelled through it. It is more a fable than a fact, and it would surprise me with its streets and churches named in French. It is like you are taking a turn in the street and reaching another country.
There are more liquor stores in Mahe to each street than in any place in once-upon-a-time Kerala, where of course bars are all now shut down because alcohol is injurious to family health. Often so is marriage, but we will let that ride for the moment.
When I was a child, I had passed through Mahe and, then again, years later, when I drove from Bombay to Cochin and back once.
Both times I remember wanting keenly to be born there so I could be an honorary French citizen. If the French were still in power in Mahe and I am forced to vote, I would vote French, which I consider a very civilised society.
The other two states that are going to the polls today, I know reasonably well. Part of my schooling was in Madras, which was a lovely name if only because it rhymed rather artfully with the festive Mardi Gras, and which they changed in 1996 to Chennai for reasons of local pride, a facile excuse for fudging facts of history.
The name might have derived from Damal Chennappa Nayagar, a Nayak chieftain in the 17th century. Or it may have derived from the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple. Chenni means face in Tamil.
We used to stay in a quiet lane, 8 Yogambal Street, in T-Nagar, a residential area in the heart of the city. A couple of years ago when I travelled through Madras, I took a cab and with some difficulty located the area, but couldn't recognise the house.
In fact, I didn't see it there at all. This is what happens when you vote governments into power because you want change. I decided then I might be persuaded to vote for a party if it lets things be. All houses will remain the same. And you would have no problems in belonging to your history. And your old albums would not appear as if they had been sent from another planet. To freeze time and stay young, at least your houses must remain the same.
Today in Tamil Nadu, they are going to the polls, with DMK and AIDMK, the two main parties in the fray, led respectively by the now clearly immortal Karunanidhi and a rather dictatorial woman, Jayalalitha. She is unique in that she prefers people to talk to her toes at close quarters; they are all expected to fall down at her feet before they say, Amma, which means Mother.
Both parties are promising change. Change means in political parlance more TVs, more channels, more flats, more water and more power. And I don't understand the logic because everybody seems to recall they were happier when everything was less.
Kerala, I flatter myself to say, I know pretty well. This is the only region perhaps in the world that eats more than it should, and drinks now illicit wine and beer stronger than hooch, to wash the fried beef down. In Kerala, everyone has an opinion, and that opinion, however ill informed, makes him very unique.
The literacy level is close to 100 per cent, and almost every second family has one or two members in the Middle East working as efficiently and silently as robots; once a year they come back on vacation and they resume the role of the rebel leader, which was what they were once-at least in their mind.
Last week Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared--unfairly-Kerala to Somalia. This was during his political campaign for the BJP, and it has hurt the pride of the Keralaites.
The speech would go against the interests of the BJP in today's polls. He also suggested that Singapore was a preferable city to Dubai, if one must exile oneself. This angered the Malayalis even more, because most of them consider Dubai an extension of Calicut without the river Kallayi, bearing timber from up north, and floating through it.
The real tussle in Kerala, therefore, is between the Left front and the Congress Party, which is now in power. Normally the government in Kerala works in five-year shifts. If the Congress rules for five years, it would be the Left in the next five. It has been happening for decades.
I have begun to believe elections are a secret pact between the two parties. That's another reason why I don't vote in Kerala.
C. P. Surendran is a former editor-in-chief of DNA newspaper, a novelist and poet


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