At best, BJP stands to gain a bit more this time, and then aim for bigger things in 2026.
New Delhi: If the Assembly elections are held in Kerala today, there is no doubt the Left Front will be voted back to power, with or without Pinarayi Vijayan as its leader, and rewrite the state’s history. Since the Election Commission has decided that the state would go to the polls only on 6 April and not today, the Left Front will have to wait. And Kerala will take a breather and decide whether it is time to break from its tradition of kicking out the incumbent government and usher in rivals Congress’ United Democratic Front once again or give the Left another five more years in power. Either way, it will be the same wine in the same old bottle with the same bitter sweet taste. It is too early to say whether the voters would seriously consider the other option that has now emerged on the Kerala political horizon, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. At best BJP stands to gain a bit more this time–last time the party made history by opening an account in the state Assembly–and then aim for bigger things in 2026. Well, that is a long way to go. In the given scenario, Kerala will have to settle for more or less the same familiar faces. But will its voters show better preference while choosing its masters this time is the bumper question.
In the recently held elections to the local bodies like zilla panchayats and municipalities, the Left Front had dared to experiment new blood and succeeded in its efforts. The result is all to see: State capital Thiruvananthapuram has a twenty something lady who is still in college as its Mayor, unheard of anywhere else in the country. The same CPM which fielded many young faces across the state in those elections may not venture out to do so in the Assembly elections where the stakes are much higher.
So most likely the Left combination will fall on their old warhorses, though the CPI, the second largest partner in the front, has announced that it would not field anyone who has had two terms in the Assembly. The CPM also seems to be veering towards the same formula. But till the candidates are announced no one will know for sure whether the parties stick to their formulae. This is more applicable to CPM since many of its young and upcoming leaders were swept away in the Congress tsunami that hit the state during the 2019 general elections. The CPM would like to field at least a couple of them for the Assembly. The CPI, on the other hand, may find it difficult to zero in on winnable candidates among its second rung leaders. The party’s growth is to a very large extent stunted in the state, especially since the party has to play second fiddle to the Big Brother. As regards others in the front, most of them are either father-son (no daughters please) or one-man parties. They are there just for secular sideshows.
The Congress despite its stunning Lok Sabha performance has not steadied its ship so far. The good work done by Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala as the Opposition leader- he is singularly responsible for exposing many of the corruption scandals that rocked the state in the past one year – seems to have not much impressed the party high command. Otherwise, there was no need to put an old and ailing Oommen Chandy in charge of the elections in the state. Compared to the Congress set ups in states like Punjab where Captain Amrinder Singh asserts when needed, leaders in Kerala have always put loyalty to the family first. Their subservience to the Gandhi family is total irrespective of the two groups headed by Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala respectively.
That is why Rahul Gandhi, though not holding any position in the party other than being an MP from the state, is accorded so much importance in the state. Now that Rahul is insisting on giving prominence to new faces this time, it is to be seen how the local leadership complies with that, meaning burying their group interests and working for the good of the UDF. Still old warhorses are all readying for the battle. Along with the CPM, the Congress is facing a threat from one of its age-old allies, the Indian Union Muslim League. Right now, there is hardly any presence of the Congress in the Assembly from north Kerala. UDF’s strength from the region is mostly confined to the League. Even Rahul Gandhi chose to contest from Wayanad as it is a safe seat, not because it is a stronghold of the Congress but of the League. There are no Congress representatives in the state Assembly from at least four of the 14 districts in the state. So League is sure to demand its pound of flesh. There are hardly any other partners in the front since a major chunk of the Christian vote will go with one of the Kerala Congresses, the one led by the son of late K.M. Mani, crossing over to LDF. It is to be seen whether Oommen Chandy will be able to keep Congress’ traditional Christian vote to the front.
That brings us to the unknown entity of BJP-RSS combine which has improved its electoral share over the past couple of years. On paper the NDA has the support of a party said to be representing the lower caste Ezhavas again launched by a father-son duo who seem to be at loggerheads on and off. Political observers say that it is a pre-arranged ploy by the duo to eke out maximum benefit from the ruling BJP. The local leadership is full well aware of this. This is one reason why the BJP in the state is banking on eminent personalities in the state who owe their allegiance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to project the party’s image.
Metro Man E. Sreedharan and former DGP Jacob Thomas are the most notable among them. Many others are supposed to join the party in the days to come.
While people like Sreedharan and Jacob Thomas may be the most respected in their selected fields, that does not mean they have a following of their own. Individuals alone won’t matter among an elite electorate as that of Kerala.
Age is definitely not on the side of Sreedharan and it would be a folly on the part of BJP to project him as their chief minister candidate. It would be better for the party to stick to the “development” plank of the Central government and the benefits it has brought to the state so far. Political Kerala knows that the BJP factor alone will decide the ultimate winner. That factor is going to be the Hindu vote share of the CPM and the Congress. If it was the minority vote that decided the general election results, it will be the role of the majority that is going to decide this Assembly election.