The results of state legislative assembly elections of 2021 in Kerala proved a watershed movement in the state’s electoral history. They broke the familiar cycle of alternative governments since 1982. For the first time in decades, the incumbent government of CPI[M] led Left Democratic Front managed to obtain a stunning victory with 99 seats out of a total of 140. Pinarayi Vijayan became only the third chief minister in Kerala's history to be re-elected and the first to continue in office after completing a full term.
However, this outcome was not altogether unexpected. Various exit and pre-polls already suggested the return of the left government to power, but not many expected such a clean sweep. The results caught the Congress leadership by surprise because the United Demcratic Front led by it managed to capture only 41 seats. As for NDA, they lost their one sitting seat in Nemom constituency, Thiruvananthapuram, thus completely being banished from all electoral prospects of Kerala.
This unconventional left turn was a consequence of a multitude of factors. Amongst many others, the ‘Vijayan’ factor remains most important since LDF’s entire campaign revolved around the incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. He has been called by the supporters of his party as the ‘Captain Comrade’ who led Kerala in crisis. His tenure as Chief Minister was not easy at all. Since its very inception in 2016 Vijayan’s government has faced a number of crises back-to-back, starting with Cyclone Ockhi of 2017 to the Nipah outbreak, and mega floods to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. He has been lauded for handling these challenges effectively.
Image Credits: The New Indian Express
During his tenure, Kerala became the first state in the country to become fully digital in public education thus reviving the sector from its misery. Welfare pension schemes were increased, free housing provided through the LIFE mission and an increased investment in health, education, and infrastructure increased the support of the government. The steady and bold stand of his party against the controversial CAA and Farmers’s bill reinstated support from the youth. But it was the effective handling of the economic crisis during lockdown that drew most attention. All this gave the left front enough confidence in winning the election which was reflected in their catchphrase for the campaign ‘Urappanu LDF’ [Its LDF for sure].
“The incumbent LDF government deserved my vote in Kerala elections 2021 as per the actions they performed to serve humanity. This was a government that had to deal with several emergency situations but managed to sail through with stunning efficacy. It proved that people can live without starvation through any degree of severity of crisis, if there is an able and people centric government in power. Also it is important to support a communist government in this disruptive age. The strong decisions of the government at the time of CAA protest and all showed explicitly the anti fascist stance of the government. To fight against religious bigotry and fascism I choose this government to be in power once again.”-Krishnapriya P Sajith, a young voter from Kerala
The Failed ‘Hand’
The election result is a complete backlash to INC, the grand party of the old. Kerala was crucial to the Congress for rebuilding its lost prosperity in the country. But with the result it became quite clear that they are unable to manage a victory even in such familiar and secular soils as that of Kerala, thereby raising questions over the very existence of the party at national level. Its top leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, extensively campaigned in the state to rejuvenate the party, but all went in vain.
The inability of the party to project a strong leadership backfired as evidenced by its electoral performance. Unlike UDF, the left had its much celebrated Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as well as its Health minister K K Shailaja, who received international acclaim for her effective leadership during the Nipah outbreak and Covid first wave. Her wide recognition and massive support from people led to a magnificent victory with a record margin of 61,305 votes.
Even though Congress had its popular former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, he could not create a statewide impact this time. The Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala fought relentlessly against the left government by bringing to light a number of allegations, but still failed to be a leader of the masses. Groupism in Congress’ Kerala unit further weakened its campaign right from the earliest stages of election. Congress heavily criticised the government for the gold smuggling scandal which allegedly involved even the Chief Minister's Office, and attacked various other ministers for corruption allegations against the funding board KIIFB and LIFE mission, thereby creating anti-incumbency sentiments in the state.
Both UDF and NDA tried to resurface the long-drawn debate of Sabarimala into the mainstream discussion. But it turned out that Kerelites gave importance to welfarism and effective crisis management over these allegations and communal narratives.
"Even though there were 20 more allegations against the government and most of them were proven right, due to the low performance of congress workers in the booth level, it did not reach the common people. Common people were not aware of the corruption behind the food kits and the truth behind the pension. But it's not an end. In1967 Karunakaran was the opposition leader ,with 9 MLAs, and media mocked him as the leader of just 9 MLAs. But we have seen in 1977 that the same man formed the government with 111 MLAs. Definitely UDF will come back."- Dilsa Saithun Beegum, another voter from Kerala
The ‘Account Closing’
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opened its account in the State with Congress support. But the Left Democratic Front would close that account this election, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said this on 3rd April. It seems that he was accurate in this judgement.
The hopes of the saffron party to become a crucial player in the state politics is sabotaged by the electoral debacle with no seats at all. The party was unable to get any new seats and at the same time lost its one and only sitting seat in Nemam. Even though it put up a strong fight in Nemam, Palakkad and Thrissur, none of them turned out to be a victorious constituency for them. The technocrat E.Sreedharan, who contested in Palakkad had gained a clear lead over his main opponent UDF’s Shafi Parambil in the initial hours of counting but lost it over the time. In fact, the sitting MLA Mr. Shafi got enough praise from across the state as his victory contained BJP’s hope to win at least one seat. The former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajashekharan was given the responsibility to retain their lone seat at Nemam but failed to repeat the victory of O. Rajagopal in 2016. The party chief K Surendran, who contested in two constituencies failed to secure both seats which explicitly is a 'No' to BJP as a party.
Metro Man E Sreedharan in Palakkad/Image Credits: @deccanherald.com
This election once again proved that Kerala is not a place for BJP's communal politics. Anti-BJP sentiment is strong as ever in the state. Many of its national leaders including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and many other ministers and top-leaders organised multiple visits to the state during the campaign. They also had many popular figures like Metro Man E. Sreedharan in Palakkad, one of the most famous actors Suresh Gopi in Thrissur. But none of these helped the party to open an account in the state.
"We have closed the account that the BJP opened in the Kerala Assembly in the 2016 election. Kerala has become the only Assembly in India that has no representative from the BJP. Kerala will remain the citadel of secularism in the country," said CPI(M) leader Thomas Isaac on Twitter. However, BJP state president K. Surendran said that communal polarisation affected the BJP’S prospects in the state. But this does not mean that BJP is completely out of the picture since its support in the ground level is increasing gradually.
“The historic victory is a recognition of the LDF government’s five year rule. It is the people’s victory. They trusted us and we trusted them. The election was a big political fight for us,” Vijayan said in Kannur.
The people of Kerala decided to take a different road this time. They chose an incumbent government after many years of alternative governments between LDF and UDF. Their choice was predictable because the left government had done remarkably well in their tenure and the UDF did not put up a strong competition for them in the election. And their choice made it loud and clear that they do not aspire for a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Anyhow, the journey for the new government would not be easy. The state is witnessing a fresh surge in Covid cases and it would require a lot of effort in order to manage the troubled economy and finances. Most importantly, the people chose them breaking their regular habit with a lot of aspirations. So fulfilling them would be the greatest challenge in front of Mr. Vijayan and his government.
By Seethalakshmi K S
Seethalakshmi is a Political Science major at Hindu College, and is a member at The Symposium Society. She loves being around books and a keen enthusiast of national and international politics.