Image Credits: DNA India
It’s election season around. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, and Puducherry have already voted to form fresh governments while voting is underway in West Bengal. Although the national focus was much around Kolkata, some interesting turnout of events are due in southern states too, particularly in Kerala. This election can be historic for the state since the incumbent left-led government has high possibilities in returning to power.
But how re-election of a government would be historical? This is because this southern state has never re-elected any government since the 1982 election.
This is not the only reason which makes this election interesting. The 2021 Kerala election results can also make consequences beyond the state politics. The main contestants of the election -Left Demoractic Front[LDF], United Democratic Front[UDF], along with National Democratic Alliance[NDA]-have got their own reasons to showcase their best in this election. The very survival question of left parties is clinging on to this election. With just five MPs in Lok Sabha, their national position looks very bleak. They lost Tripura as well as West Bengal so it is very crucial for them to retain power in Kerala for a future in the country. Capturing power in Kerala is vital for Indian National Congress also since it is important for them to rebuild their lost empire in the country. To grow in South India, BJP also needs to expand its support in the state.
Various opinion polls already predicted that the CPI[M] led LDF is very likely to have a decisive victory in the state. But what could be the essential elements which are said to alter the nature of Kerala politics after decades? Among many others, the ‘Vijayan’ factor remains more important since the entire campaign of LDF was revolving around its incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. He has been called by the supporters of his party as the Captain Comrade who led Kerala in crisis. To quote one of the journalists in Mint, “It is almost as if Vijayan is the candidate everywhere.”
His tenure as Chief Minister was not easy at all. Since his very inception in 2016, Vijayan’s government has faced a number of crises back to back starting with the Cyclone Ockhi of 2017 to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. He has been lauded for handling these challenges effectively, be it the Nipah outbreak or the megafloods of two years. He was the captain of the ship which prevented Kerala from drowning completely in those unprecedented hardships. But it would not be justice to give him the whole credit for combating these challenges and would be inappropriate to conclude that things would have been completely different if anyone else was in power.
Even though topics of belief, faith were raised invariably by UDF and BJP with a main focus on the Sabarimala issue, the left managed to focus more on the government's achievements and welfare schemes along with the crisis management.
The Left tried to base their campaigns on the development initiatives introduced by the government which includes increased investment in health, education, and infrastructure. During their rule, 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 all such initiatives helped to garner more ground-level support for the government. But most importantly, its effective handling of the economic crisis during lockdown draws much attention, which fed, housed, and provided economic and health relief to a large number of people in disarray. Even though their initial success in combating Covid-19 did not last long but it managed to prevent from making the situation worse in the state.
However, the gold smuggling scandal which alleged to involve the Chief Minister's Office and various other ministers, and also various other corruption allegations against KIIFB[Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board] and LIFE mission are all keeping a shadow over the government. Also, the controversial take of the government in the Sabarimala issue is rightly used by the opposition camps of UDF and BJP to polarise the votes.
It is rather a do-or-die situation for Congress since its devastating performance in the 2020 local body elections in the state. The groupism affected the initial campaigns of the Congress-led UDF, however the front managed to put up a tough fight in the last leg of election. Even though the Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and former CM Oommen Chandy led the election campaign in the state, a leadership crisis seemed to exist in the front.
This election is crucial for its national leader Rahul Gandhi being the Wayanad MP who along with his sister Priyanka Gandhi actively campaigned in the state. While his candidature in Wayanad rejuvenated the grand old party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections resulting in a stunning performance of the party in the state, but that does not seem to have a greater impact this time. However, the candidate list of the party with many young leaders seems to have impressed the voters in many constituencies which was also helped by the CPIM’s decision to not give party tickets to candidates contested twice. This tended to backfired the ruling party since many of its popular leaders lost the chance to try their luck once again.
Sabarimala Still Matters?
Since the beginning of the election campaign, Sabarimala has tended to be a key factor in the verdict of the people. While the ruling left tried its best to focus more on welfarism and development, the opposition parties UDF and BJP tried to resurface the long-drawn debate of Sabarimala into the mainstream discussions. After the backlash in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the left front was careful in adopting a loose position in the issue. Back in 2018, the government tried to implement the Supreme Court order allowing women in Sabarimala temple which resulted in an unrest in the state and subsequently led to the election debacle for the left.
So when Congress and BJP proposed legislation to ban entry of women into the hilltop shrine in their manifestos, the left already declared that it is ready to have negotiations with all stakeholders after the Supreme court's final verdict.
The Struggling Saffron Party
The position of Bharatiya Janata Party in the state is bleak as always. Even though the support of the party is slowly increasing in terms of vote share, the main challenge to the party is to reflect this support in the number of seats. It is important for them to not lose the only sitting seat in Nemam. It would be better to wait till the results to analyse how naming of ‘Metro Man’ E.Sreedharan as BJP’s CM candidate affected the prospects of the party in the state. The BJP-led NDA used Sabarimala issue vividly to get upper hand among Hindu voters. Even the Prime MInister Narendra Modi in his campaigns used the Sabarimala chant for the same. He knows well “Jai Shri Ram” don’t work in this southern state.
Along with Modi, the state saw multiple visits by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and a number of Cabinet Ministers including Nirmala Sitaraman, Rajnath Singh and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adtyanath. BJP also won some popularity among Christian communities with its ‘Love Jihad’ narrative.
All Eyes on May 2
The mood of the ground is clear. The three fronts have a lot to lose and gain in this election. If history repeats, the Congress could strengthen its national position and the future of the left would be in misery. But if tables get turned, 1977 would be repeated when the incumbent government led by the Congress and CPI was re-elected in Kerala after the emergency and thus breaking the tradition of alternating political fronts in power. People of Kerala already casted their votes and it would be certain only on May 2 what essentially is in store for 'God's own country'.