After the surprising Lok Sabha results in Kerala, a meme began circulating on Malayalam troll pages. This was the gist: “Those ruling Kerala didn’t get Kerala. Those ruling India also didn’t get Kerala. And those who got Kerala can rule neither Kerala nor India.”
The tongue-in-cheek summing up is apt: Kerala now has the dubious distinction of sending the largest contingent of Congress MPs to the Lok Sabha, in complete contrast with the national picture. The Left’s rout may lead to both the CPI(M) and CPI potentially losing their identity as national parties. As for the BJP and Sangh Parivar, Kerala still remains a challenge and it is possible that the new central government may treat the state with some hostility.
None of the main political parties have much reason to be happy with the Kerala verdict. But what went wrong and what lies ahead for them in the state?
It’s fitting that the Left’s sole victory (with a slender margin) was in Alappuzha, the southern coastal district which has inherited the legacy of the Communist uprisings of Punnapra and Vayalar against the dictatorial divan of the then princely state of Travancore.
While the party had always been vocal in its criticism of both the BJP’s revivalist Hindutva and the Congress’ alleged soft Hindutva, in these elections, it was unable to hold up against a few factors cited as the reason behind its humiliating defeat: a Rahul Gandhi wave which was formed suddenly in response to his decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala, a clear consolidation of minority votes behind the Congress, fearing the return of Modi to power, and the confrontational stand taken by the government in the Sabarimala issue.
Many Left leaders, who were hoping that Kerala would continue to be the last citadel of Left politics (after the disappointments in West Bengal and Tripura) are still coming to terms with the shock. While anti-Congressism left the Left in Kerala with a single seat, an alliance with the Congress helped it win four seats in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, Kerala’s chief minister and CPI(M) politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan did not campaign for the party’s candidates in Tamil Nadu. The CPI(M) is now engaged in deep introspection to examine why it failed even in traditional bastions such as Kannur, Palakkad, Alathur and Attingal.
“There was a strong sentiment against the BJP at the centre. Though both LDF and UDF tried to cash in on the sentiment, it worked out in favour of the Congress,’’ Vijayan had told the media when asked by the media about the electoral debacle.
“Even the Congress faced a similar situation in the past. This is a temporary phase and we will fight back,’’ CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told HuffPost India.
But the LDF also seems apprehensive of what the return of Modi may mean for the state.
“Secular parties at the national level have faced a severe setback. The country is now heading towards danger,’’ Kodiyeri added.
The Congress’s victory may be its highest in the state in recent times, but it is tempered by both its national disappointment as well as the fact that its house is not in order—its Kerala unit is suffering from factionalism and organisational weaknesses and has failed to form a strong opposition to the Vijayan government. Its flip-flops on the Sabarimala issue had led to much derision, with the Left even accusing it of acting like the BJP’s B-team. It’s another matter that the party which had no firm stand was the one to gain from the BJP’s communal polarisation on the issue.
According to Congress insiders, the candidature of Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad not only rejuvenated the party machinery in Kerala but also helped boost the morale of alliance partner Indian Union Muslim League. The wave for Rahul Gandhi and fear of Modi created a large-scale minority vote consolidation in the state while Hindus who disassociate from the BJP-RSS but felt hurt over the LDF government’s approach to the Sabarimala issue formed another vote bank. Both the minority and majority consolidation contributed immensely to the UDF’s kitty, boosting its poll prospects. The CPI(M)’s allegation that BJP cadre cross-voted for the Congress to defeat the Left has not found many takers.
The electoral outcome was extremely humiliating for the right-wing party, which was hoping to open its account from Kerala this time. Its communal and divisive agenda failed to find takers even in Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta, which were expected to be highly polarised constituencies.
“Keralaites have not grown up to be a part of Narendra Modi’s India dream. The younger generation of Kerala will suffer if Kerala turns a blind eye to Modi’s development agenda. Despite being an outsider in Ernakulam, I secured more votes for BJP, which is an achievement. We expected a win in two seats at least, so we are unhappy with the performance,’’ said former Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam, the BJP’s Christian face in Kerala who lost to Hibi Eden from Ernakulam.
But an analysis by Hindustan Times indicates that even the BJP has increased its vote share at the Left’s expense. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to hold on to these voters.
An immediate challenge for both the LDF and UDF will be the by-elections to be held to six assembly constituencies, particularly, Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram. Vattiyoorkavu MLA and senior Congress leader K. Muraleedharan had won from Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency by a margin of over 84,000 votes. In the last assembly election, BJP’s senior leader and former Mizoram governor Kummanam Rajasekharan was in second place in the constituency, giving hope to the BJP that they could wrest it in a by-election. Ernakulam MLA Hibi Eden and Adoor MLA Adoor Prakash of Congress have also been elected MPs from Ernakulam and Attingal, respectively. The lone CPI(M) MP M.A. Arif will have also to vacate his Aroor constituency facilitating bypoll. Apart from these, Pala and Manjeswaram, two traditional Congress strongholds, are also awaiting bypoll because of the death of the sitting MLAs.
When it was faced with the worst floods of the century last year, a united Kerala set a model for the rest of the world. However, that unity was weakened when the Sabarimala issue divided Malayalis religiously and politically. Now, the state which has strong leftist moorings is at a crossroad.