Was Chandy the last Congress CM?
The recently-concluded legislative assembly elections in Kerala led, not surprisingly, to a victory for the Communist’s Left Democratic Front [LDF].
The UDF lost, and in what has become a half-century old Malayalee tradition, the popular mandate forced Chandy to make way for the ascent of a Northerner, Pinarayi Vijayan – a stern, severe Communist.
But more importantly a significant change had happened in the latest assembly election although on the surface, it looked like business as usual.
Let us understand the composition of population there. 55 per cent of the population are Hindus [approximately 20 per cent FC, 25 per cent OBC, 10 per cent Dalit & 1 per cent ST], 27 per cent Muslim and 18 per cent Christian.
The 2016 election results threw up little out of the ordinary: the UDF dropped 25 seats in a house of 140, and the LDF gained 23 to post a healthy majority of 91 seats. Not that different from 2011, when 30 seats transferred from the LDF to Mr Chandy and the UDF. But there, the similarities end.
A sense of variance could be seen from the start of the 2016 campaign itself, in how the Communists chose not to attack the incumbent Chandy government beyond a point, for their numerous scams and other assorted misdemeanours; instead, they raised the bogey of impending severe, communal carnage and advised the electorate against voting for the BJP.
A second indicator was in the manner by which former Communist Chief Minister, V. S. Achuthanandan was brought back into the fray as the chief campaigner. It was a deft move, in part to polish the LDF’s OBC credentials, and in part to counter the BJP tie up with the BDJS – an Ezhava OBC outfit. But what was left unsaid was the Left’s worries, that if they attacked the Congress too hard, a larger chunk of the anti-incumbency vote would gravitate towards the BJP.
As it is when Chandy had inducted fifth IUML minister into his cabinet, he was warned by a colleague that with this morally unconscionable move, he would be the last Congress Chief Minister of Kerala.
This third force had for decades in Kerala, run at a comfortable 2-5 per cent of the vote share without ever causing UDF or LDF candidates any harm; the BJP was at best a nuisance in one or two pockets which the two big coalitions tolerated since it kept the natives from becoming restless.
The numbers never lie. In the 2011 state elections, a seat that had held to form, the BJP registered a better than average 6 per cent vote share. But in May 2012, the people spoke loudly, increasing the BJP’s vote share by 17 per cent to 23 per cent. The Communists dropped 8 per cent, and the Congress retained that seat in spite of a 9 per cent vote erosion.
Re BJP, when Mr Modi compared the condition of destitute Kerala tribals to Somalia – a factually
correct statement, but one which the Congress tried to play up as an insult. An astute Rahul Gandhi chose not to campaign in Kerala at all and stayed away under the pretext of a security threat received in Pondicherry.
Notably AK Anthony chose to attack BJP and mocked it saying that the only account they’d open would be in a bank. The beneficiary this time was the BJP, though not good enough to secure more than one seat.
Now, the Congress has not only lost but its share per cent remained adept at both -bank politics and minority appeasement – the twin tools of overcoming the monolithic majority they lost in the late 60’s courtesy the Syndicate’s rebellion. Unfortunately, this approach works on the principle of swiftly-dwindling returns, as can be seen by the permanency of their losses in the Gangetic plains and the peninsula.
The situation was exacerbated in Kerala because here, both the Muslims and the Christians have their political parties who add straight half to the UDF’s kitty; the IUML for the Muslims of Malabar, and a clutch of ‘alphabetical’ Kerala Congress parties under KM Mani for the Christians. With the liberal intelligentsia not caring to contest this social abomination, both the IUML and the KC’s have over time, become accepted as part and parcel of the Malayalee political tableau; the result was a clear, distinct and visceral separation of electorates on religious grounds. But with the rise of the BJP – especially over the past three assembly elections, the Congress came to be faced with a serious issue: the winnability of their Hindu candidates.
In 2011, successful Hindu UDF candidates constituted only 35 per cent of the coalition’s total [25 of 72]. In 2016, this fell alarmingly to 28 per cent [13 of 47]. Why did this happen? The answer is simple – because predominant Hindu support for the UDF, which traditionally came from the upper caste Nair community, exited in droves to the BJP. The numbers are staggering even if the BJP did not enjoy any more than their solitary success this year, and they deserve to be assessed in detail.
In seat after seat, the angry Nair vote – finally fed up and galvanised by the UDF’s religious politicking, shifted primarily to the BJP. For example: Kozhikode North, -14 per cent; Manalur, -14 per cent; Thrissur, -17 per cent; Kodungallur, -20 per cent; Thripunithura, -16 per cent; Chengannur, -21 per cent; Vaikom, -16 per cent; Chatanoor, -20 per cent; Kazhakkoottam, -18 per cent; and on and on, from north to south. So much so that in the seats the UDF lost, the average vote swing away from them, and that largely to the BJP, is a painfully negative 10 per cent [bear in mind this includes a number of seats where the BJP has little presence, and where thus, the swing away was far less].
In Chavara, a popular UDF minister who won with a handsome 5 per cent margin in 2011, lost in 2016 solely because the Nair vote shifted to the BJP. So too in the north, in Kuthuparamba. The picture that emerges from three consecutive elections is of a rapid decline in the winnability of Hindu Congress candidates, thereby turning the party into a predominantly Christian one.
This is a dangerous development with the potential to rupture society further, and yet, the Congress leadership refuses to acknowledge it [nor the press for that matter, rather curiously, begging the question: why does the fourth estate in Kerala need to be so delicately and politically correct if it is impartial?]