In Kerala, communal and caste polarisation is the key factor
The fortnight-long campaigning in Kerala for the 16th Lok Sabha elections, which culminates in polling across 20 constituencies on Thursday, has been a battle largely involving two equally placed political forces: the Congress and the CPI (M).
‘Equal’ in the sense that both are faced with possible shrinkage in their electoral space at the national level; and must, therefore, garner as many seats as possible.
For the Congress, this means hitting the double digit, as it did in 2009, sending as many as 13 MPs on its own and three through its allies to New Delhi. Given its difficulties in West Bengal and elsewhere, the CPI (M) and its Left allies too have the same ambitious goal. But, as the campaign wound down on Tuesday, neither the Congress nor the CPI (M) could say with confidence if they would be able to touch the double digit.
The BJP, a distant third in the fray, is hoping to put up a strong contest in two constituencies and appears set to improve its vote share. However, the possibility of its opening its account in Kerala is still in the realm of conjecture. Questions relating to economic policies, corruption and price management have been key discussion points during the campaign. But the most important factor is communal and caste polarisation
The State witnessed the spectacle of top functionaries of the Catholic Church giving the Congress a good shake-up over the Kasturirangan Committee recommendations on protection of the Western Ghats. It appeared as if the Church, which has traditionally stood behind the Congress, was telling the party not to take it for granted. But the Congress did some quick firefighting, and now the Church appears by and large ready to back the Congress this time as well.
While the Church-Congress sparring was on, the Muslim minority was quiet, unlike in past elections when every Muslim outfit worth its name was trying to make itself heard. The powerful Sunni factions are particularly silent and the usually articulate Jamaat-e-Islami has decided to back its own Welfare Party of India nominees and those contesting on an alternative platform.
The Abdul Nasir Maudany-led People’s Democratic Party has called for a ‘conscience vote’, perhaps indicating that nobody wishes to take a chance and the gainer could be the Congress.
The Church-Congress row has given the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front an opportunity to reach out to the predominantly Christian settler-farmer community. The LDF has also tried to cut into traditional Congress votes by fielding a record five Independents.