As the curtains came down on the election campaign for the 14th Assembly in Kerala on Saturday, both the ruling United Democratic Front and the opposition Left Democratic Front were left unsure as to who would scrape home this time. This is a definite departure from what has been practised for the past four decades or so when Keralites voted one front to power every five years, alternatively. If this had continued, it would be the turn of the LDF to come to power, considering the incumbency factor of the UDF. However, this time the outcome is wide open thanks to the entry of the BJP-led “third front” in the state, leading to an unusual tri-polar contest. If indications are proved right, then this “third front” is set to change the political arithmetic of this southern state.
In the past, generally the UDF or LDF would romp home on wafer thin majorities. Last time the UDF got just a two-seat majority when they assumed power. Later it consolidated its position by winning two by-elections and with the entry of RSP into its fold from the LDF. In 2011, when it assumed office, not many in the state had given the Oommen Chandy government a full five-year term. But it survived and is now hoping to break the jinx and come to power for a second term, banking on development and the continuity factor. The LDF, though it started with an advantage handed on a platter by the corruption-ridden UDF, seems to have lost that pole position. With the “third front” giving it a stiff contest in at least 30 of the 140 constituencies, the result could go either way. It could even pave the way for a hung Assembly if the BJP and the newly formed Ezhava party, Bharat Dharma Jana Sena alliance bags half a dozen seats. And if this happens, which indeed is a tall order, Kerala will definitely see new political formations taking shape.
At the beginning of the campaign, the general feeling was that corruption would be a defining factor in this election. Such was the dimension of scams that political pundits were unanimous in terming the Chandy government as the most corrupt Kerala had ever seen. But the LDF, which too had failed miserably in playing a constructive role as Opposition, did not capitalise on this and instead indulged in the Chief Minister’s character assassination. Even during the last five years the LDF had failed in all its mass movements against the government, leading the public to term its agitations as trumped up “adjustment struggles”. Though the BJP-BDJS combine did expose the duplicity of both the fronts, lack of popular candidates hampered its campaign. Moreover, people viewed the front with a bit of apprehension as it is totally managed by the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh workers rather than BJP cadre.
Though the BJP-BDJS combine did expose the duplicity of both the fronts, lack of popular candidates hampered its campaign. Moreover, people viewed the front with a bit of apprehension as it is totally managed by the RSS workers rather than BJP cadre.
The lacklustre campaign gathered some steam midway when the UDF’s liquor policy became a bone of contention. The UDF could, for a short while, pin down the LDF over its vague stand on the closure of bars selling hard liquor in the state. The UDF liquor policy, born out of political compulsions within the Congress took its toll in the form of the resignation of Kerala Congress strongman K.M. Mani as Finance Minister and opened a slew of allegations of money changing hands. This had considerably dented the image of the UDF, but it did have a sobering effect on Kerala society. Other than a great relief for womenfolk, the policy helped in cutting down the rate of road accidents, but it has not reduced intake of alcohol per person. Nor has it helped in reducing violence against women. But the general feeling was that some effort in the right direction has been taken and the LDF and the “third front” too were compelled to spell out their plans on this issue. However, it is to be seen how devout drinkers and thousands rendered jobless following closure of bars exercise their votes. This will be a major factor in this election.
As the campaign entered the midway stage, by which time the “third front” had shown its potential, both the UDF and the LDF shifted their focus to stalling the BJP in its tracks. Both the fronts accused each other of tacit understanding with the BJP in toppling the other. The CPM went to the extent of identifying certain constituencies where “friendlies” were being held between the Congress and the BJP.
As the campaign entered the midway stage, by which time the “third front” had shown its potential, both the UDF and the LDF shifted their focus to stalling the BJP in its tracks. Both the fronts accused each other of tacit understanding with the BJP in toppling the other. The CPM went to the extent of identifying certain constituencies where “friendlies” were being held between the Congress and the BJP. The LDF contended that Vellappalli Natesan, general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sangham, the socio-cultural body of the Ezhavas, had taken BJP to the UDF camp. Despite these open accusations there is a feeling among a large section of voters that UDF-LDF is once again playing an adjustment game to stop BJP from opening its account in Kerala. This suspicion strengthened further when senior Congress leader and former Defence Minister A.K. Antony, in his campaign, called upon voters to elect a “BJP-less Assembly” in the state. Antony tried to steer the campaign to a national course when he said the BJP will take Kerala back to the lunatic days when religion and caste dominated society. Now Oommen Chandy too has come out saying BJP is Congress’ number one enemy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi while campaigning in the state said that “the child death ratio (infant mortality rate) among tribals in Kerala is scarier than even Somalia”. Though it is a fact that in the last three years almost 600 children have died in the impoverished hamlets of Attapadi in Wayanad district, the comparison has not gone down well with Malayalis.
In an uncertain post-result scenario on 19 May, if the traditional fronts fail to obtain a lead, two people will hold the key to power. One is Kerala Congress leader K.M. Mani, who stands only for personal aggrandisement and the other is none other than Vellappalli Natesan, who has charted the course of BJP in the state so far. Mani harbours a very personal ambition of becoming Chief Minister. When he was under the cloud of the bar bribery case there were some moves on his part to cross over to the Left Front, who were reportedly willing to make him Chief Minister. Since CPM will go to any extent to come to power, Mani and his seven or eight MLAs will be in a position to bargain. The comrades, despite big talk on ideology, will not blink an eyelid if Mani comes to their help in forming a government. Natesan too has only personal interests. Rumour has it that he had requested Prime Minister Modi for a berth for his son and BDJS president Tushar Vellappalli in the Union Cabinet and a plum post for himself. In the event of this not happening, and considering his community’s empathy with the communists, there is every possibility that he would desert the NDA. That is if his BDJS wins a couple of seats.