The stunning victory of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was largely unexpected, but seems to be a direct result of the anti-incumbency wave against the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre and the unhappiness with the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the State.
A linked development was the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all age groups entry into the Sabarimala temple and the State government’s decision to implement it.
The UDF swept 19 of the 20 seats in the State. The LDF was confined to the remaining one seat.
In the survey, more than six of every 10 respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of the Union government. Four of every 10 were fully dissatisfied. This was a crucial factor in determining the electoral outcome. Consequently, a large number of respondents supported Congress president Rahul Gandhi for Prime Minister — 36 percentage points higher than the support for Narendra Modi.
Table 1: Complete dissatisfaction with the Central government’s performance was four times higher than complete dissatisfaction with State government’s work
However, the most important election issue was the Sabarimala verdict. The State government’s decision created quite a stir, with the BJP leading the protests hoping to transform this into votes in its favour. The UDF tactfully followed a soft policy by protesting without violence.
In the election campaign, the BJP focussed on the Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta constituencies. In 2014, the BJP lost the Thiruvananthapuram seat by a narrow margin. This time, its candidate lost by over one lakh votes. In Pathanamthitta, where the Sabarimala temple is situated, another key BJP leader came third.
Table 2: Prime Minister Preference of Kerala voters
While close to half the respondents in the survey did mention the Sabarimala issue as a critical factor (46% said it had been either a very important or somewhat important voting issue for them), the sentiment against the Supreme Court judgment did not favour the BJP but the UDF. Nearly two of every three respondents were opposed to the Supreme Court verdict.
Moreover, nearly three of every five voters expressed dissatisfaction with the way the LDF handled the issue.
Table 3: Opinion on the Supreme Court judgment on Sabarimala temple entry
Close to half the respondents very strongly disagreed with the judgment. The benefit out of this protest went in favour of the UDF rather than the BJP, as the Congress-led alliance, in a way, took the line the BJP had initially taken and also because of the unhappiness with the NDA government at the Centre. The survey found the UDF to be getting a greater support (35%) than the BJP (30%) among Hindu respondents who said they were fully against the verdict. Muslims and Christians too were found to be more likely to be opposed to the judgment than support it and more likely to be dissatisfied with how the State government handled the issue.
A strong anti-BJP sentiment in Kerala led to minority consolidation.
Table 4: Satisfaction with LDF government’s handling of Sabarimala issue
The huge victories of the UDF in the constituencies which had a marginal presence of the BJP and in the minority-dominated areas indicate this factor. Two of every three Muslim and Christian voters seem to have voted for the UDF.
The survey indicates that more than half the respondents felt that the rise of the BJP in Kerala was bad for the State.
Table 5: Vote by castes and communities
(K.M. Sajad Ibrahim is Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, University of Kerala)