The enthusiastic voting in the Kerala Assembly election points to a closely fought contest. An election where all the main contenders fancy a chance is a good sign for a democracy. What’s worrying, however, is the political discourse that the state witnessed in the run-up to the voting on April 6. The hostile exchanges, openly communal statements and deliberate attempts to mislead voters turned what should have been a free and fair democratic exercise into an eventful but troubling experience for most. While parties did their best, or worst, to factor communal sentiments into the electioneering, religious and community leaders who should have ideally stayed neutral had no hesitation in attempting to influence voters one way or the other. The fact that even a communist chief minister had to invoke God on the polling day indicates how the parties and groups were successful in building the narrative around matters of faith in this election.
Even as the parties relied on rhetoric and sensationalism in their bid to sway people’s minds, many issues that deserved their attention were ignored. While the ruling LDF reminded people about the freebies it doled out and its rivals did everything to steer the discussion away from them by bringing up many scams along with the government’s handling of the Sabarimala issue, there was little focus on issues like the state’s dire financial situation, its infrastructural inadequacies, ‘man-made’ natural disasters, the mess in higher education, the high number of custodial deaths in the last five years, the mysterious Maoist encounters and many more. The electioneering in Kerala was a sad reminder of how political parties prefer to depend entirely on issues that are communal and emotive in nature to elicit a quick response in an election. Now that the voting is done and they must wait till May 2 for the results, the parties can use this time to reflect on the election discourse they scripted. They must reflect on the issues they should have spoken about but sorely missed. They must examine if the narrative they adopted served any purpose other than manipulating the voter’s mind to secure a favourable electoral outcome.