Kerala Elections: Minority votes hold key in deciding majority

Changing voting pattern among Christians and Muslims to be crucial for UDF and Left front

Published: 23rd March 2021 05:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd March 2021 05:23 AM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

KOCHI: On Sunday, the Kollam diocese of the Latin Catholic Church issued a pastoral letter cautioning the laity and calling for a vigil regarding the issues in the fisheries sector. The letter by Kollam Bishop Paul Antony Mullassery’s was read out in the churches under the diocese during the Holy Mass.

Soon, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala raised the issue in a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram and said the UDF shared the sentiments expressed by the Kollam bishop. “The Central and the state governments are trying to sell sea and drive the sons of the sea to penury. This needs to be opposed at any cost. If UDF comes to power, we will ensure that all concerns raised by the Kollam bishop are addressed,” said Chennithala.

However, Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma alleged political motive behind the pastoral letter. “Why does the Church raise an argument favouring the UDF?” she asked reporters during her campaign at Kundara.The pastoral letter ahead of the crucial assembly polls and political reactions within hours of reading the letter in churches point to a subtle contest that plays out in the state during every poll: the battle for minority votes.

As per the 2011 census, 45 per cent of the state’s population is minorities — 26.6 per cent Muslims and 18.4 per cent Christians. Historically, Christians and Muslims in the state have taken a political view which is against that of the CPM-led fronts over the years. The front comprising CPM and CPI enjoyed minority support in between when Muslim League and strong Kerala Congress factions aligned with them like in the seven-member alliance government led by EMS in 1967  and the Left front government led by E K Nayanar in 1980. On other occasions, Congress had benefited from the support of minorities.

It was Congress leader and former chief minister K Karunakaran who first identified the power of a Muslim–Christian alliance that would serve as a fixed deposit for the Congress. The idea led him to constitute the United Democratic Front (UDF) which scored an impressive win in the 1982 assembly polls. The Indian Union Muslim League and Kerala Congress became an integral part of the front since then. By then, the Muslim population in the state had overtaken Christians and Karunakaran foresaw that minorities would form half of Kerala’s population in another 50 years. In fact, the identity politics played by Kerala Congress and Muslim League in the early 1980s was so strong that even a section of CPM leaders feared that Left parties would not be able to come back to power if League and Kerala Congress remained as strong allies of Congress. 

The alternative document presented by senior CPM leader M V Raghavan which was believed to have the blessings of stalwart leaders like E K Nayanar argued for cooperating with parties like Muslim League. This eventually led to the ouster of Raghavan from the party in 1985.CPM ideologue and then general secretary E M S Namboodiripad could very well turn the debate and present the Left Democratic Front as a true secular alternative for UDF, which he alleged was a den of communal forces of all hues. The victory of Left front in 1987 was the fruit of EMS’s ‘secular strategy’ that indirectly led to the consolidation of Hindu voters behind the CPM-led front.

Three decades later, when the same LDF is facing another important electoral battle, one of the key constituents is Kerala Congress (M) led by Jose K Mani, son of the late K M Mani who had founded the UDF along with K Karunakaran. Though Muslim League is still in the UDF camp, the Left front has Indian National League (INL), another Muslim party, as its constituent. INL was formed by former Muslim League national president Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait after the demolition of Babri Masjid. Though the party had collaborated with the LDF since then, the formalisation of their relationship was only done in 2018 when INL was inducted as a constituent of the LDF.

The fight by both fronts this year is spiced up with several issues that concern minorities. The target of LDF is to poll at least 40 per cent of Christian and Muslim votes which will ensure a win in several fiercely fought constituencies. The calculation of UDF leadership is that a win is possible only if the front nets at least 65 per cent of minority votes.



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