Kerala's voters are known for bringing about a regime change at every available opportunity. Since 1977, when the Congress held on to power in spite of Emergency atrocities, no ruling combination has managed to retain office in this southern State. With the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) taking a beating in the recent local body polls in every tier across the State, the trend of the ruling front making way for the opposition in an Assembly election is set to continue. Whether at the district, block and gram panchayat levels or at the corporation and municipality levels, the LDF was bested by the Congress-led United Democratic Front in the latest elections. Worryingly for the LDF, even those gram panchayats that have traditionally voted Left opted for change this time. In the urban segment, the most significant setback was the loss of the Kochi Corporation which it had ruled for three decades. The victory in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation was by the smallest margin possible, one seat, but the loss in Thrissur was big.
In Kerala elections, victory and defeat in most cases are decided by relatively small margins. But with only six months to go for the Assembly polls, there is not enough time for Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan to take corrective measures. By itself, the anti-incumbency factor is no explanation for voter disenchantment with a government. Indeed, it is a sentiment that is built up over time because of several shortcomings of those at the helm. What is clear is that the electorate has rated the performance of the Achuthanandan government as not good enough. The factionalism within the Kerala unit of the CPI(M) did not help. At times, even the Cabinet gave the impression of a divided house. After starting his term with a groundswell of support, a Chief Minister with a squeaky clean image found himself mired in in-feuding. His government could not live up to the high expectations of the people of a State whose political culture encourages irreverence and a hyper-critical spirit towards those in office. In basic social indicators, Kerala is ahead of the rest of India by some distance and the LDF government did build on this with welfare measures and development projects. However, implementation was a weak point. Sadly, the Left also paid the price for taking on the Church establishments on the secular principle in education and for alienating some Muslim allies. The odds are stacked against the LDF retaining power. If the Lok Sabha election was a warning, the local body polls sealed the political message. A five-year spell in the opposition should be a chastening experience for the Left.