In politics, predictable is always the unpredictable, at least, in Kerala. The United Democratic Front rout came at a time when the jury seemed divided between the routine change of the power baton and claims of a historic second term in succession for the government in power. Now that the CPM-led Left Democratic Front has shredded the Congress-led UDF to pieces, it is now time to take stock. And look at the emergence of the BJP-led NDA and the role it played in the way the results eventually panned out.
The United Democratic Front paid dearly for trying to brazen out the slew of corruption charges it faced. Its development projects did not carry enough power for a counter punch.
The hype surrounding the closure of bars and retail outlets did not gain traction among women, who turned out in large numbers to vote. The downside: Kerala got portrayed as a state with scant regard for women’s safety. The unfortunate Jisha murder case clinched the argument for the Left, and the Right.
In its last days, the United Democratic Front government was in an ungainly hurry to inaugurate projects that still had some distance to go. From the Metro and Kannur airport to Smart City, it came out as the hasty efforts of a government that was unsure of its return to power. From a rubber grower’s point of view, the last 100 days turned out to be a period for ‘slaughter tapping’. The kind of confidence that would have exuded an appeal to allow the same government that began the Metro work, to inaugurate its maiden run in November was missing.
Pinarayi Vijayan led a campaign that was reassuring, a kind of salve to the people of a state that was looking for peace and tranquility, given its already high human development indices. It’s slogan, ‘Let the LDF come, everything will be alright’, brought home the gravy for the Left front. Despite the fact that the previous Left Democratic Front government, led by V S Achuthanandan, was found wanting, in terms of delivery, in many spheres on the development front. Cutting back to the chase that was, a macro reality that was critical to the way the 2016 Kerala Assembly results was eventually called, was the consolidation of the NDA votes. Notably, it grew manifold, from 6.06 per cent in 2011 to 15.01 per cent in 2016, making it the only political front to record a growth during the last five years.
Even as the United Democratic Front vote share headed south, from 45.8 per cent to 37.8 per cent, the Left Democratic Front made sure that its share was pretty much left undisturbed, recording only a marginal dip, from 45.19 per cent to 43.31 per cent.
At the party level, the CPM led, with 26.5 per cent vote share, and 58 seats, but allowed space to the CPI, with only 8.1 per cent vote share, to win 19 seats. The Congress, with 23.7 per cent vote share, could garner only 22 seats and was only marginally ahead of the 18 seats by its ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), with only 7.4 per cent vote share. Arguably, this could be managed, as almost all the Muslim strongholds voted for the IUML, overriding the strong anti-incumbency wave.
In sharp contrast, the BJP, with 10.5 per cent votes, could only win one seat and its ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), none, after garnering 3.9 per cent votes points to some new voting patterns that emerged this time, most of them evidently favouring the Left front. The gamble that went into the floating of the BDJS, as a political face of the SNDP, set off a series of reactions.
The formation of a party with majority Ezhava representation resulted in the Nairs and some of those small parties claiming representation of the scheduled castes pulling away. The Left emerged the option as the United Democratic Front reportedly sported a soft spot for the NDA. Muslim and Christian voters, till date with the United Democratic Front , also turned Left Democratic Front sympathisers in large numbers. All this, while there was a strong consolidation of Hindu votes for the NDA, mostly the BJP. The key to this election, or, at least, the results was as much the emergence of the BJP as a political force, at the cost of the United Democratic Front , as it was of the Left Democratic Front holding on to its base, allowing only a marginal erosion of its vote share.
By and large, that was sufficient to engineer a mandate that overwhelmingly went in favour of the Left Democratic Front and swept the Pinarayi Vijayan government to power. And the premise of some political pundits that the Left will eventually become a B team of the Congress has been put paid to.
It is now the Congress that is faced with the B team syndrome, and unless the party reinvents itself with some vigour, quite a scary prospect that can no longer be ignored. If a job well begun is half done, then the comrades have got a serious head start. For a change, the new cabinet of ministers has not been chosen on the basis of caste, religion or region.
The next milestone to cross would be to ensure that there are no political or communal flare-ups. Its success will depend, to a large extent, on how effectively the apparatchiks will be reined in by the new government.
Formation of BDJS led to a series of reactions
The gamble that went into floating of BDJS, as a political face of the SNDP, set off a series of reactions. The formation of a party with majority Ezhava representation resulted in Nairs and some small parties claiming representation of SCs pulling away. The Left emerged as the option.
Congress faces the prospect of being Left’s B team
The premise of political pundits that the Left will eventually become a B team of the Congress has been put paid to. It is now the Congress that is faced with the B team syndrome, and unless the party reinvents itself with some vigour, quite a scary prospect that can no longer be ignored.
Resident Editor, Kerala