The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala had not been expecting such a tough election. Of course, it was never going to be a cakewalk—the Left’s national presence is now almost completely limited to Kerala, meaning it would make sense in a general election for minority votes to consolidate behind the Congress—but the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government’s efficient handling of the state’s worst floods in a century had given it hope.
The controversy over women entering Sabarimala had alienated a section of Hindu voters, but a backlash against the divisive tactics unleashed by the BJP—whose sole poll plank was Sabarimala—was expected to make up for that. The Left’s primary opposition in the state, the Congress, was in disarray after failing to take a proper stand on the issue (even being called the BJP’s “B-team” at one point) as well as internal wrangling.
And then, news broke that Congress president Rahul Gandhi had chosen to contest from Wayanad in north Kerala as well as his mainstay Amethi. Overnight, the Congress-led UDF got a new shot at life, while the Left parties were forced to go on the backfoot.
On 23 April, the state recorded voter turnout of 77.68%, the highest in recent history—political observers attribute this to a massive minority vote consolidation to counteract the hate mongering and communal polarisation unleashed by the BJP and its allies. Except, this is now likely to benefit the Congress, at the expense of the Left, which has pinned most of its hopes on Kerala.
Left parties are eyeing a couple of seats in Tamil Nadu, where they are in a multi-party alliance. But their attempts to forge an alliance with Congress in West Bengal failed and Tripura is not showing any signs of moving away from BJP’s revivalist Hindutva agenda.
In the 2014 election, the Congress-led UDF won 12 seats in Kerala, while the CPM-led LDF got 8. The ‘Modi wave’ had completely passed the state by.
Kerala’s history has shown that a higher voter turnout has been beneficial to the UDF. Multiple sources from different political parties across the spectrum say that the turnout can be attributed to the BJP’s hate campaign and its claim that it would win at least the Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta constituencies. Rahul Gandhi’s candidature, these people say, helped the UDF reach out to minority communities who were fearful about a second coming of the Narendra Modi government.
The BJP’s campaign was largely focused on expanding its vote base, banking on the issue of women’s entry into Sabarimala temple. While it was hobbled by the state election commission’s instructions not to use the issue for political gains, it did manage to find a way around this, mostly by criticising the LDF government for “hurting the sentiments of the faithful”.
The party has fielded former state president and Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan against Congress heavyweight Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram. In Pathanamthitta, the district where Sabarimala is located, the party had created an impression of a triangular contest by fielding K Surendran, who had been jailed for his role in the Sabarimala protests. On its part, the LDF had no choice but to field their strongest local faces, which meant six MLAs, in the fray to fight both Congress and BJP at the same time.
Among districts, Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi’s constituency, marked the highest turnout of 80.31%. The local leadership of the BJP had to struggle to contain resentment in the district against Modi and Amit Shah’s communal remarks and hints about Wayanad being a “mini-Pakistan”.
Thiruvananthapuram, which some exit polls have dubbed too close to call, had the lowest voting percentage in the state at 73.45%. There was poor response in the party’s strongholds such as Vattiyurkavu, Thiruvananthapuram North, Nemom and Kazhakkuttam. Congress domains such as Neyyattinkara, Kovalam and Parassala saw higher turnouts. There was huge turnout in the coastal Christian-dominated areas as well.
The Left has high hopes from Palakkad, where sitting MP MB Rajesh is contesting for the third consecutive time, and Kannur, where senior leader PK Sreemathi is contesting against Congress leader K Sudhakaran.
Congress is hopeful of retaining Vatakara constituency by defeating top CPI(M) leader P Jayarajan, who is accused in a political murder case under CBI probe.
If these observations hold up, the BJP is unlikely to open its account from the state this time as well. What seems to be beyond doubt is that the Left will be reduced to single digits, and the Congress and UDF will gain a lot.