Kerala was one of the few States where the Congress was able to challenge the rise of the BJP
Kerala retained its unique political flavour this election with traditional political rivals — the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — in the electoral battlefield. While the media did speculate about the possibility of the (BJP) opening its account, the results proved otherwise. The UDF managed to beat a double anti-incumbency by winning 12 of the 20 seats. It would be interesting to note that in the previous Lok Sabha polls (2004 and 2009), the ruling alliance in the State performed poorly. How did the UDF reverse this trend and create an incumbency advantage?
Why the LDF performed poorly
The internal contradictions within the LDF and in particular the leading party — the CPI(M) — contributed to its poor performance. Ever since it narrowly lost the Assembly elections in 2011, it has been forced to focus attention on controversies and squabbles within the party rather than on taking on the government. The move to close ranks and present a united front by the CPI(M) leaders came too late in the day.
Our post-poll survey indicates that the LDF failed to act as an effective opposition as compared to the past. If past patterns are anything to go by, the LDF definitely missed the bus in 2014, both on local and national issues. At the local level, it lost out despite widespread media coverage of alleged lapses of the government on many issues, including charges of corruption. At the same time, the LDF failed to capitalise on big national issues like general price rise and hike in fuel prices. Despite being in the opposition, the shortcomings of the LDF had a higher recall value among respondents as compared to that of the current UDF government, our data show.
There also appeared to be a general ‘feel good’ factor among the people in the State. For instance, a majority of the people felt that the supply of electricity had improved. Close to four out of every ten felt that employment opportunities had improved in the last few years.
It must be stressed that a positive perception of the leadership capacity of the Congress also appears to have helped the party. In sharp contrast to the supposed poor public perception regarding the Congress leadership in general, the voters in Kerala had relatively higher expectations from them as compared to other parties. They believed that Congress leaders were more caring, reliable, collegial, trustworthy and efficient compared to leaders from other parties.
The success of the UDF can also be seen in its ability to retain votes among the minorities. Close to two-thirds of the Christian community and close to six of every ten Muslim respondents said that they voted for the UDF. The Ezhava and Nair vote appears to have seen a three way split between the UDF, LDF and the BJP.
This fact could have adversely affected the prospects of the LDF candidates in key constituencies, as the alliance traditionally drew a higher chunk of votes from these communities.
The electoral results have provided some relief to the Congress which has otherwise faced a rout in most other States in the country. Kerala was one of the few States where the Congress was able to challenge the rise of the BJP. The results have important implications for the LDF which has put up a poor show in the Lok Sabha polls from the State for the second consecutive time.
These results have important implications for the Assembly elections in 2016. Will the Congress-led UDF be able to maintain its edge over the CPI(M)-led LDF or will the general weakening of the Congress party nationally have an impact? Will the sharp decline in the performance of the Left across the country also impact its prospects in Kerala? Will the emergence of the BJP as the ruling party at the Centre impact its performance in the State? A lot will depend on how the two fronts resolve their internal differences and whether the BJP can leverage its position at the Centre to create some impact in the State.
(K.M. Sajad Ibrahim is associate professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Kerala. K.K. Kailash is assistant professor, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad.)