Thiruvananthapuram: The Left Democratic Front (LDF), the coalition of left-wing parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, on Thursday won a decisive mandate in Kerala, unseating the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
The LDF won 90 seats in the 16 May election, just two short of a two-thirds majority in the 140-member assembly and way above the 47 won by the UDF.
But as well as for the Communist win, Thursday’s election result could go down in history for making the first dent in Kerala’s traditional bipolar contest, thanks to a good showing by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The alliance won one seat, its first in the state, and more than doubled its last assembly election (2011) vote share of 6%.
The big boost for the NDA came from the victory of O. Rajagopal, an 84-year-old former Union minister who sought the public mandate for the ninth time on a BJP ticket in Kerala. Rajagopal, who is often called the BJP’s permanent candidate in Kerala, won from Nemom constituency in Thiruvananthapuram district, defeating CPM legislator V. Sivankutty in a tight contest.
Given Rajagopal’s personal standing as a long-time political leader in Kerala, it could be argued that it was a win for the man rather than the BJP. However, the NDA came second in seven constituencies, eating into the vote share of other parties, especially the Congress.
While the LDF vote share fell by less than 1 percentage point from 2011 to 43.1%, the UDF’s vote share fell more sharply to 38.78% from around 45% in 2011.
“The BJP’s vote share has increased to 15%. Its vote share in the Lok Sabha elections also hovered around 15%. It shows the consolidation of votes for a third front in Kerala," said Biju B. L., a political analyst and associate professor in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Hyderabad.
What could explain this Left wave?
Even for CPM state committee member and former lawmaker P. Rajeev, a tally of 90 seats was quite a surprise.
“In the last assembly election, the LDF tally was 68 seats. Even after a high turn-out in this election (of about 77%), two out of the three major national exit polls predicted the Communists would win only 75-78 seats in Kerala," he said.
The wave of support for the Left is spread across Kerala. For instance, it won every constituency in one district, Kollam. And bagged all seats but one in four other districts—Thrissur, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Wayanad.
It won all constituencies except two in Kannur and Calicut districts.
Political analysts said the heavy Left win can be explained in part by a massive public disaffection towards the Congress party because of the scandals and corruption allegations surrounding the UDF government led by chief minister Oommen Chandy. The Congress’s tally went down from 39 seats in 2011 to 22.
Four of that government’s ministers—K. Babu, Shibu Baby John, P.K. Jayalakshmi and K.P. Mohanan—lost the election, as did speaker N. Sakthan and deputy speaker Palode Ravi.
Another minister and a seasoned Congress politician, Adoor Prakash, won by one of the lowest margins—323 votes.
The anti-incumbency wave seems to have touched even chief minister Chandy, whose winning margin plummeted from 69,992 in 2011 to 27,092.
“The verdict is nothing short of a public revolt against the Congress," said K.J. Jacob, executive editor of the Deccan Chronicle in Kerala.
Ironically, the campaign strategies adopted by the Congress seem to have helped the Communists gain more seats, said Jacob.
“Towards the end of the campaign, the main strategy of the Congress was to project the BJP as the main opposition, thus hoping for a split in the votes of Hindus, who have traditionally voted for the Left. But the results show that the Hindu-dominated areas have voted for the Left. Not only that, the rise of the BJP also seems to have consolidated minority votes in favour of the Left in some places," Jacob said.
“Another indicator of how the BJP’s rise has affected the Congress instead of the Left," said Biju, “is that the Congress has been pushed to third place in most of the seven seats where the BJP has come second."
In addition, the so-called “non-committed" voters, who swing between the two fronts and are a major deciding factor in Kerala polls, appear to have voted in a big way for the Communists, said a Congress leader and member of Parliament, requesting not to be named.
“It seems like the promise of prohibition and the split of the Hindu vote bank backfired on us. It’s almost like we scripted their win," said the leader.
The election result has put the focus back on the questions surrounding the leadership in both the fronts. The LDF did not declare a chief ministerial candidate, perhaps because of the rivalry between the two main contenders—92-year-old V. S. Achuthanandan, who led the campaign for the party in this election, and 72-year-old Pinarayi Vijayan, who is considered to have the organizational backing of the party.
“The state committee will sit down on Friday in Thiruvananthapuram and decide who should become the next CM," said Rajeev. Will the party split the CM’s tenure between Vijayan and Achuthanandan, like Jyoti Basu stepped down for Buddhadev Bose to become West Bengal chief minister in 2000?
“No. Certainly, the mandate is for the next five years. We will have only one CM in that period," he said.
In the Congress unit, a leadership change seems to be on its way. “This is an unexpected verdict. I assume full responsibility for this and wish not to be the opposition leader in the upcoming assembly," said Chandy.
Track the election results in individual constituencies here.