Lotus set to bloom in Kerala backwaters
Predicting the outcomes of Kerala elections has always been psephologists’ nightmare. This time the situation has become even more complex. For more than two decades, the two political fronts – Left Democratic Front (LDF) and United Democratic Front (UDF) – have ruled the state alternatively after every five years. But last time it seemed that Kerala would buck the trend as the fight was so close but the UDF led by Oommen Chandy got a slight edge.
What makes predictions a difficult task is the difference in the voting percentages between the two fronts. Kerala has been politically highly polarised state between the two fronts. Even a two per cent swing in favour of a particular front would upset the whole seat calculations. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which managed to form a government even in Jammu and Kashmir, could not even open an account in the state all these years, despite it having a committed cadre and work base. But this time around the situation is different, vouch BJP supporters and political observers.
Kerala has a unique demographic profile. Although the Hindu community continues to be the majority religious group, it is highly divided. The minorities – Muslims (26 per cent) and Christians (18.5 per cent) — almost steadfastly stood behind the Congress-led UDF. Despite its aggressive posturing as a secular formation, minorities have not been very forthcoming with their support to the LDF. Whenever there was a Hindu polarisation against the “communal” UDF, the CPI(M)-led LDF gained, as for all these years they did not find BJP a winnable option.
With the advent of Narendra Modi at the national scene, there has been a surge in the BJP’s voting share. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the party lost the Thiruvananthapuram seat by a small margin. The BJP has emerged as the decisive factor in the Kerala politics which would decide which front would form the government. Earlier, if the BJP polled higher voting share, the UDF used to suffer. But, of late, BJP has started eating into the LDF vote share. This was witnessed in Aruvikkara Assembly bypoll and in last civic body elections. The influential Ezhava community, which constitutes 24 per cent of the total population of the state, used to be the mainstay of the Communist parties. This community is drawing closer to the BJP. The powerful leader of Ezhava community Vellappalli Natesan has set up a political party Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and forged an alliance with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). BDJS has been working for the consolidation of different caste groups and Natesan’s critique of the UDF government’s policy of minority appeasement had struck a chord with the majority community. He says the two powerful political parties – Indian Union Muslim League and Church-supported Kerala Congress – has been pushing their communal agenda and apportioning the state’s resources among themselves. There is a feeling among the majority community that they have been left in the lurch by both the fronts. About 70 per cent of UDF’s members in the outgoing assembly are minorities who together account for 45 per cent of the population. Some of the campaigns taken up by the CPI(M) in its bid to show that it is the true saviour of the minorities and secularism have only helped alienate a section of the majority community. Moreover, the NDA has managed to rope in many prominent personalities to contest as its candidate. Cricketer Sreesanth is contesting as a BJP candidate from a Thiruvanthapuram seat. CK Janu, the firebrand tribal leader, is contesting as an NDA candidate from Sulthanbathery. The BJP hopes it would emerge as a major political force in this election. The party’s vote share in the state rose from measly 4.75 per cent in the 2006 assembly elections to 6.06 in the 2011 assembly elections, to 10.3 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and finally to an all-time high of 13.3 per cent in the 2015 civic polls.
The UDF government, led by Oommen Chandy, is the most corrupt government in the history of Kerala. There have been allegations of financial and moral corruption on the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues and party members. His personal staff were involved in questionable land dealings and other corrupt practices. Accused in solar scam case, Saritha Nair told the probe panel that she had paid more than Rs 1 crore to the Chief minister. She revealed how ministers and Congress leaders sought sexual and financial favours form her. One of the key ministers in his government K M Mani had to resign following allegations of bribery in bar licence allotment case. K B Ganesh Kumar, another minister, had also resigned from the government. His party later defected to the LDF. Internal feud within the Congress is also not helping the UDF’s cause. However, what works in its favour is the prospect of minority consolidation and many say Chandy is subtly playing a communal card.
Although the factional fights within the CPI(M) have been under control, there are issues at the grassroots level of the party. Also there is a general resentment against the “murder politics” of the CPI(M). Ninety-six-year-old VS Achuthanandan continues to be the popular leader of the CPI(M) but people feel if the LDF wins his bete noire Pinarayi Vijayan would become the chief minister. This possibility is a huge put-off for the general public, which see Pinarayi as a corrupt and proponent of “goonda politics”. There is a talk within the party that all the campaigns the party launched in the last five years have failed because Pinarayi himself is an accused in a scam. Social media is full of stories about the flamboyant life-style led by senior party leaders of the CPI(M). There is an impression that the CPI(M) is in the grip of a mafia. There were eruptions within the party over “selling of tickets” to moneybags; Many committed leaders were ignored to make space for candidates with money power. In some places workers revolted against the party’s official nominees causing much headache for the party leadership. Although all the pre-poll surveys so far have given the LDF an edge, the BJP’s performance might make or break the former’s plans.
For the CPI(M) and the Congress, this is a do-or-die situation. The Congress has been losing one state after the other. In Assam, the party, is facing an uphill task. If it gets Kerala, it would give a life-line to the party which is fast reducing into a minor player in the national politics. For the CPI(M), if it fails to win Kerala, it will cast a question mark over the leadership of Pinarayi and General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. It’s true that a different set of problems will emerge even if LDF wins Kerala and fails to make much impact in West Bengal. This means Yechury’s troubles will only rise, as rivals in the party will become stronger.
The BJP used to allege that in the past whenever they were in a better position to win a seat, the rival fronts used to cross-vote to defeat BJP. Since this time around the stakes are high for both the fronts, they might not indulge in cross-voting.
By G Sreedathan