The electoral history of Kerala saw a watershed event on Sunday as the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, romped home in the Assembly election. The verdict dismantled the familiar pattern of the two major fronts led by rivals Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress alternately coming to power.
The familiar arrangements in the bipolar order of electoral politics in the State were overturned with the LDF securing continuity of governance, a scenario captured by its campaign catchphrase ‘ Urappanu LDF’ (It’s LDF for sure). The LDF swept the election by winning 99 of the total 140 seats in the Assembly. The LDF’s historic victory even surpassed its own calculations.
Mr. Vijayan, projected as the brand icon of the LDF, will be credited with creating a history of sorts by breaking the accustomed pattern of the State alternately electing the UDF and the LDF every five years.
The UDF’s rout came as a shock to its leadership, given its concerted campaign focusing on issues that put the LDF on the defensive.
The UDF pegged its hopes on issues that embarrassed the ruling front, including the case of gold smuggling through diplomatic channels, allegations of nepotism and its stand on the issue of entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple.
However, pre-poll surveys and exit polls had given an indication of the way the wind was blowing.
The adverse electoral verdict is expected to have serious implications for the UDF, especially for the Congress leadership. The verdict is also seen as a determinant of the outcome of pressure mounting within the Congress for Rahul Gandhi’s return as party president and the rebellion launched by ‘G-23’ leaders within the party. Mr. Gandhi had visited three times in the State to campaign across the regions.
The electoral outcome was a major embarrassment too for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance which drew a blank, despite considerable money and manpower it had marshalled for the sustained and visibly high profile campaign, including election rallies addressed by its top leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Not only did it lose the Nemom seat it had won in 2016, it also failed to secure Manjeswaram, Konni, Palakkad, Thrissur and Kazhakkuttam where it fielded heavy weights including party State president K. Surendran, ‘Metroman’ E. Sreedharan, Suresh Gopi and Shobha Surendran.
The results also threw some surprises including the defeat in Pala seat of Jose K. Mani, chairman of the Kerala Congress (M), which had deserted the UDF to join the LDF. The KC(M)’s moment of jubilation was dampened by the loss of prestigious Pala to incumbent Mani C. Kappan. The KC(M)’s entry in the LDF helped the ruling front make inroads into southern districts of the State. The results, however, show that the UDF was not totally pummelled in its strongholds in Kottayam and Ernakulam districts. Malappuram also remained the UDF’s mainstay.
The impact of the attempts to invoke religious and community sentiments on the electoral outcome will certainly be audited in the coming days. How the efforts to appeal to such sentiments by stoking fears in different segments of the electorate impacted the outcome will be clearer once the details of vote shares of the parties come out.
While the verdict leaves the UDF to do serious introspection on its future course, the LDF will also be forced to do some soul searching about decline in its vote share in some of its strongholds such as Taliparamba, a CPI(M) bastion, where its senior leader M.V. Govindan won.