Close race on the cards as BJP looks to open account in Kerala

KPM Basheer Kochi | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 15, 2016

UDF faces a spirited fight from the Left front; BJP not yet a major factor

As Kerala goes to the polls on Monday, predictions about its outcome are hard to make, given that it is a ‘wave-less’ election this time around.

Over the last two months of electioneering, neither the Congress-led UDF nor the CPI(M)-led LDF could build a wave in its favour or one against the other. But, two questions will pop up in the minds of the electorate: will the election break the ‘political cycle’ which replaces the ruling front with the rival alliance front every five years; and will the BJP find a toehold in the Assembly?

Both questions are tough nuts to crack. In Kerala’s bipolar polity — it has always been either the UDF or the LDF in power — the electors grow disenchanted with the incumbent every Assembly election. If the pattern repeats this time too, it will be the LDF’s turn to rule — with a thin majority of seats. But, apart from the obsessive compulsive need to throw out the government in power each time, do the electors this time have a strong reason to say no to the UDF?

Corruption scandals

The main allegation against the Oommen Chandy government is corruption.

The bar-bribery scandal, the ‘solar’ scam and the government gifting land to crony capitalists are the three prime issues.

The electoral damage of the bar bibery scandal could be offset with the positive impact of the liquor policy. A substantial section of the population, mainly women, has ‘liked’ Chandy’s closure of bars (most of the bars shut down reopened as beer-and-wine parlours though).

The UDF campaign was largely successful in creating the suspicion in the electors’ minds that the LDF, if it were to win, would reverse the liquor policy.

As for the ‘solar scam,’ which had the potential to topple the Chandy government before its term ended, the gradual loss of credibility of Saritha Nair, the main accuser, turned counter-productive. And, the total money involved in the ‘solar scam’ was only around ₹7 crore — a pittance in comparison to the scale of financial scandals happening around the country.

In terms of magnitude of corruption, the gifts of government land and out-of-turn licences given to industrialists and businessmen in the final days of the government were more serious than the other scandals.

Following Opposition outcry, the government cancelled some, but the electors have not forgotten them.

However, the electorate might take favourably to the Chandy government’s positive achievements in terms of development and welfare activities, discounting the corruption scandals.

LDF’s intense campaign

But, the LDF ran an effective, coordinated and intense campaign that upset many of the UDF strongholds. It made inroads even into the bastions of the Muslim League, the second-largest party in the UDF. And, the CPI(M) is desperate for a victory, for existential reasons at the national and State levels. If it loses the Kerala election, the party will be reduced to a weakling at the national level — with a presence only in tiny Tripura.

At the State level, the CPI(M)’s Ezhava vote bank has been shrinking and the formation of the BDJS, an Ezhava-caste party which has aligned with the BJP, is a big threat. The CPI(M) has also realised that the creeping influence of the ‘fascist’ BJP is an ideological threat to its existence. These challenges have forced the CPI(M) and its front to run an efficient campaign. But, will this strong campaign, which was devoid of a wave as well as the cycle effect, propel the CPI(M) to power?

Ezhava factor

The Kerala electors are curiously watching if the BJP will make its maiden entry into the Assembly. This will largely be determined by how far the Ezhava vote will swing. The alliance with the BDJS was a master electoral strategy as the BJP alone cannot hope to win a seat. If the backward Ezhavas desert the LDF in a big way to support the NDA, and the upper-caste Nairs give a strong helping hand, the BJP will open its account.

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Published on May 15, 2016
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