Kerala Assembly Elections | A battle over the elusive fruit of continuity

Will this election change the typical pattern of the LDF and the UDF coming to power alternately?

April 03, 2021 06:06 pm | Updated December 02, 2021 10:45 pm IST - Kozhikode:

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addresses an election meeting in Kochi on March 27, 2021.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addresses an election meeting in Kochi on March 27, 2021.

The campaign narratives in Kerala in the run up to the Assembly polls on April 6 illustrate a zealous attempt to validate, and an equally ardent bid to push back, the presumed ‘certainty’ of a forthcoming turning point in its electoral history.

The battle lines are drawn between those who set store by the certitude encapsulated in the Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) catchphrase “ Urappanu LDF” (‘It’s LDF, for sure’) and those who don’t. On either side of the divide is the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) posing a potential threat to the bipolar order in many places. A second tenure for Pinarayi Vijayan will be a shift in the accustomed electoral template of both the fronts alternately coming to power every five years.


The LDF’s perceived advantage is its high-powered campaign projecting Mr. Vijayan as its brand icon. That advantage got zoomed in against the backdrop of the initial disarray in the UDF over candidate selection. The UDF, led in the front by former chief minister Oommen Chandy and Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, conveniently chose to leave unanswered the question of who would lead the government if it came to power. The UDF relied on road shows by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to buoy its campaign.


As for the BJP, its election rallies, addressed by an array of its top national leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah , gave a boost to its electoral ambition in the State.

However hard the LDF tried to restrict the electioneering discourse to its development record and social welfare initiatives, including pensions and distribution of ration kits, multiple scams, including the case of gold smuggling through diplomatic channels, allegations of nepotism, and the government’s support to the Supreme Court’s order allowing entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, have certainly shaped the poll atmospherics. Its electoral debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in the State made the LDF jittery over Sabarimala. The sparring between the LDF and the UDF over Mr. Chennithala’s disclosure of over 4 lakh multiple entries in the electoral rolls across the State further augmented the campaign’s decibel levels.

Seldom have attempts to stoke fears in different segments of the electorate become a dominant subtext of the election campaign. The CPI(M)’s initial salvo that the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is dominating the UDF is seen as a cynical ploy to whip up fears among Hindus and Christians. The UDF and the NDA raked up the Sabarimala issue to make the CPI(M) appear anti-believers. The BJP pandered to the fear of Christians by raising the issue of “love jihad”.

Sabarimala tops the campaign issues played up by the BJP, which won the lone Nemom Assembly seat in 2016. Its chances of increasing its tally dominated the poll debates. The candidature of “Metroman” E. Sreedharan in Palakkad and the party’s top State leaders in constituencies it hopes to win left the impression that the party is serious in its resolve to change the bipolar order.

The LDF amplified its hope for the continuity of the Pinarayi Vijayan dispensation, with poll surveys lending credence to its claim that there were no anti-incumbency sentiments among the electorate. The government’s handling of crises, including floods, Nipah virus outbreaks and the COVID-19 pandemic, is used to vindicate that perception. The LDF sought to neutralise its vulnerability vis-à-vis the investigations by Central agencies into the various scams by projecting them as the BJP-led Central government’s bid to destabilise the Left government.


As usual, a heady mix of caste and religious interests is present to spice up the election scene. The UDF’s efforts to capitalise on the resentment among fishers over the LDF government’s pact with a U.S.-based company on deep sea fishing are pegged on the hope of wresting coastal constituencies in the southern and central parts of the State. Hence, the electoral significance of a pastoral letter issued by the Kollam diocese of the Latin Catholic Church flaying the government for devising policies detrimental to fisher folk.

The three fronts are kept guessing by caste organisations such as the Nair Service Society and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDPY), representing Nair and Ezhava communities, respectively. The NSS’ strident stand against the government on the Sabarimala issue is perceived as harmful to the LDF. SNDPY general secretary Vellappally Natesan has decided to stay neutral, but the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena headed by his son Thushar Vellappally is an ally of the NDA.

The election will put to test the LDF’s hope of gaining entry into the Christian belt in the central Kerala that has traditionally supported the UDF. The inclusion of Jose K. Mani-led Kerala Congress (M) in the LDF has raised the front’s optimism. The LDF’s sweep of Thrissur and the inroads it made in Ernakulam in 2016 showed that that the UDF’s strongholds in the central parts of Kerala are not invincible. The northern districts, barring Malappuram, remain the mainstay of the LDF.

The LDF has fielded more dissident UDF leaders as independents in UDF strongholds, especially in Malappuram, hoping a repeat outcome of its experiment, which succeeded in a couple of constituencies in 2011 and 2016.

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