Vyshak Raveendran, a young Communist Party supporter in Kerala, was busy paying off the bets he lost by predicting a win for the red brigade in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But more than the money lost, it was the loss of confidence of his party pretty much owning Kerala’s voting pulse that made it more humiliating for him.
Organised Left in India received its biggest setback in electoral history at 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The tally of Communist Party of India (Marxist) at Parliament reduced from an already paltry five seats to mere three on Thursday when the results were announced. Kerala, the Left’s last bastion in the country, delivered chilling news to the party on 23 May by electing just one CPM member out of 20 Lok Sabha seats.
It is a first-of-its-kind verdict, one that rewrites Kerala’s caste, religious and political arithmetic of over three decades, even as the CPM camp does not think the Congress can repeat success of this magnitude in the future.
But a detailed look at the numbers does not look comfortable for the future of the Left. Given its decimation at both state and Central elections in West Bengal and Tripura, Kerala provided the last hope for the Left parties— CPM and Communist Party of India. Apart from the solitary seat in Kerala, the CPM and CPI got two seats each from Tamil Nadu, a first, in 2019.
In a stark contrast to its national fortunes, the CPM took power in Kerala in 2016 by sweeping 91 out of 140 assembly seats. But the trend seems to have reversed in a big way in Lok Sabha results, and if it continues at next assembly polls, the party is staring at a near rout.
The public favoured Congress in a total of 123 out of 140 assembly seats that together make the 20 Lok Sabha seats. This includes a whopping 75 out of the 91 seats that elected a communist MLA just two-and-half years ago. CPM insiders say such a verdict would not have been possible without a near consolidation of the majority Hindu voters, as well as minority Muslim and Christian voters for Congress.
Congress credits the success to appearing itself as a better alternative than the CPM before minorities, to resist the BJP returning to power in center, It had fielded its most recognisable face, national president Rahul Gandhi, in Wayanad. It also reaped benefit out of the main agenda of BJP in Kerala that had created a storm of criticism against the CPI(M) state government— the Sabarimala issue. Consequently, Congress won seats like Pathanamthitta, where Sabarimala is situated.
The protests over Sabarimala had caused hundreds of BJP leaders to face police action and court arrests. But the party risked losing its support over the many flip-flops during the campaign and eventually by their call for violence, as per analyst J Prabhash. “Middle-class Malayalis, of any caste, are generally against violence," he said. BJP leader B Gopalakrishnan expressed the party’s frustration pithily: “Mannum chaari ninnavan pennum kond poy (man leaning on the wall eloped with the girl)".
The CPM failed to convert votes even from people who may have embodied the Left ideology. In Nemom, where the rise of BJP has been the swiftest in Kerala and gave the saffron party its first-ever assembly seat in 2016, Left voters seem to have voted for Congress en masse, possibly to check the rise of BJP. The Left votes fell from 59,142 in 2016 to 33,921 (in 2019) in Nemom, whereas the Congress' vote tally increased from 13,860 in 2016 to 46,472. The BJP votes too fell from 67,813 in 2016 to 58,513 in 2019.
The enmity was mutual. In Alathur, BJP voters seem to have en masse voted for Congress to prevent the CPM MP P K Biju from getting a record third term. In both cases, Congress reaped a windfall by winning the seats. The BJP's vote share might not have increased significantly from 10% in 2014 Lok Sabha polls but the saffron party has a few things to be heartened about. It is now the secondmost preferred party in three out of seven assembly seats that make the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, right under the nose of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's official workplace. However, Congress is the dominant one in six of these seven seats while BJP is preferred at the remaining seat.
Even the Left’s regular voters voted for other parties in some pockets, showing that there were feelings that overrode political ideologies.