KOCHI/KOZHIKODE -- The Congress-led UDF and its chief minister Oommen Chandy is engaged in a scorching battle with the CPM-led Left Democratic Front, to stay in power in Kerala. The emergence of the BJP as a major spoiler has not only ripped open the electoral contest but also poses the danger of disrupting traditional electoral alliances of the three major religious communities as well as the majority Nair and Ezhava communities. Here are five major issues that confronts the Congress in the buildup to the 16 May polls in Kerala.
1. Which way will the Nair vote go?
Traditionally, the Nairs have voted for the Congress in Kerala. One reason is that their arch rival Ezhava castes have been the backbone of the CPM so as well be with Congress. But now a section of Nairs will wonder why they should vote for the Congress if they now have the option of strengthening the BJP and thus be part of the larger Hindu revival. During 2014, for instance, in Trivandrum, a Nair stronghold, more than a lakh of them shifted votes from Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor to BJP's O Rajagopalan, who is again contesting from a Trivandrum suburb of Nemom. BJP supporters believe he will be the first (even if the only one) party MLA in Kerala.
2. Anti-incumbency and Marxist might
Kerala has never voted a party back to power — showing the state has an impatient electorate quick on the draw. Congress leaders feel that development projects of the UDF government will help it come back: "Never in five years has the state seen so much of development," party MP Shashi Tharoor told supporters and college students in a meeting in an air-conditioned hall in Thrissur, in central Kerala on 3 May. "Actual development also means changing the lives of the people," he said. Marxists leaders however say that the UDF is steeped in corruption and Chandy was responsible for driving Infosys out of their planned expansion plan in Trivandrum.
Congress poster in Alwaye that reads: 'One more time for UDF sarkar'.
3. BJP as the big spoiler
Since the mostly secular Kerala electorate is divided between the Left and Congress, the BJP could not carve out a political space so far. But this time they are pulling out all stops with all cabinet ministers touring Kerala this fortnight and Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting thrice. Congress candidate from Trissur Padmaja Venugopal told this reporter that BJP's divisive campaign will have no impact in Kerala and the battle is between the Left and the Congress. Since the margins are narrow in 90 per cent seats, if the BJP pulls in 3,000 to 5,000 votes in all seats after the high-adrenalin campaign, it will make the difference between Congress and LDF. BJP thus is a classic spoiler this time. BJP is in alliance with the Ezhava party Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and is fighting all 140 seats.
4. Where are the new votes for Congress going to come from?
The Congress formed a government in Kerala with just a two seat majority. This time it needs more seats but where will those seats come from? Only way this will happen is if Ezhavas ditch the CPM in some seats and vote for the BJP-BDJS, thus enabling Congress to pull through in these seats. "The LDF and the UDF are getting panicky for the first time in Kerala's electoral history," Tushar Vallopally, leader of BDJS said. There is an element of panic because both major fronts cannot figure out which way the two major Hindu castes will vote. Neither Left or Congress wants the BJP to gain an entry into the assembly. So votes will shift to the stronger anti-BJP candidate in many seats. In this scenario even Muslims might shift vote to the CPM to snuff out RSS ambitions in Malabar region. Also the CPM cadre are capable of taking on the RSS in the street as well. These are all major factors.
5. Will the development plank work?
There is general consensus that the Chandy government has done good work, the major Adani port coming up in the southern tip of the state being the major showpiece. But development has never been an issue in a remittance-economy and tourism-driven state like Kerala. There is no big talk of highways bridges and factories in Kerala, though the Congress is trying to bring the Adani port and Kochi Metro as a big electoral issue.
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