Riding on anti-incumbency

The minority vote and corruption charges against the Oommen Chandy government helped in the LDF’s resounding victory.

May 20, 2016 12:44 am | Updated September 12, 2016 07:28 pm IST

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front’s resounding victory shows that its campaign focussing entirely on charges of graft and bad governance against the Oommen Chandy government touched a chord with the people. In addition, the LDF was clearly aided by a hardening of minority votes in its favour.

The catchphrase of the LDF campaign — ‘LDF will come and everything will be fine’ — was simple but emblematic of all that was perceived to be wrong with the United Democratic Front dispensation. With allegations of corruption against the the UDF being levelled even after the elections were announced, there was every reason for the alliance to suffer an ignominious defeat. Its hopes hinged on to the possibility of the > Bharatiya Janata Party, which for the first time came up as a real third prong in Kerala’s bipolar polity , cutting into the anti-incumbency vote and thereby offering it an escape route. But with the BJP and its ally, the newly formed Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), failing to do so, the UDF’s fate was sealed.

The LDF victory is, in a sense, a continuation of the Opposition alliance’s stellar performance in the local government elections in November 2015. In an almost exact reversal of fortunes from 2010, the LDF had won control of around 65 per cent of the local government bodies. The subsequent six months saw > the Chandy government getting embroiled in several corruption scandals , and fissures developing in the Congress over the bar licences row. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president V.M. Sudheeran and Mr. Chandy could not see eye to eye on the > bar licence question and the former’s interventions to block allegedly corrupt land deals only aggravated the situation. So, though everything appeared to be fine on the surface, it was a deeply disturbed Congress that went into the elections.

Mr. Chandy had hoped to return to power on the strength of his government’s many development initiatives and the huge payouts it had made by way of social sector pensions to an estimated 32 lakh beneficiary families. However, his hopes were dashed once the government was hit by corruption scandals on a weekly basis, and > solar scam-accused Saritha S. Nair came up with ‘disclosures’ about the way she was treated by top UDF leaders. Matters probably went out of hand when Mr. Chandy and Mr. Sudheeran crossed swords over the selection of candidates landing the party, the ruling alliance, and the Congress high command in a seriously embarrassing situation. The humiliating defeat for the UDF in the Assembly elections will sharpen the divisions in the State unit of the Congress and might well see outgoing Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala gaining prominence in the party.

Shift in Muslim votes The way the minority voters have behaved has also been crucial to the >LDF’s resounding victory . The outcome in several constituencies shows that there was a strong shift in Muslim votes to the LDF. Christians too leaned towards the Opposition alliance where it mattered most. The LDF also made some clever moves in the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) bastions in north Kerala, particularly Malappuram, cutting into the traditional vote bank of the party. The LDF wrested three constituencies from the IUML, exposing the vulnerabilities of the League even in its citadels. Elsewhere too, minority votes, including those of Christians, gravitated towards the LDF decisively, as seen in the nearly complete sweep of Thrissur and Kollam by the LDF besides the inroads it has made in traditionally pro-UDF Ernakulam. All of this has been the fallout of an expected BJP surge in the State.

The surge did not happen the way the BJP would have hoped, but the party has created history by opening its account in the Kerala Assembly through party veteran O. Rajagopal. Early estimates show that the BJP and the BDJS could secure around 17 per cent votes, up from the 14.80 per cent votes that they had secured in the local government elections in 2015, and emerge second in seven constituencies. Although the BDJS was expected to propel the alliance to victory in at least half-a-dozen seats, that has not happened. This is reason enough for the party to think hard on whether or not to persist with the alliance.

(Email: gouridasan.nair@thehindu.co.in)

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