Ernakulam, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta: Each District Has Its Own Story But LDF Retains Edge On Zooming Out

Ernakulam, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta: Each District Has Its Own Story But LDF Retains Edge On Zooming OutErnakulam, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts give an edge to the LDF.
Snapshot
  • The BJP per se, does not appear to be making a mark in these districts. Not even in Pathanamthitta, the epicentre of the Sabarimala agitation.

Read first and second parts of this series.

In this third part of our series on the election scenario across 140 assembly seats in Kerala, we review the situation in the four districts of Ernakulam, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta, using data from a pre-poll survey conducted by Manorama-VMR last week.

Of the 37 seats in these four districts, the survey predicts that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s Left Democratic Front (LDF) will win 22, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) will win 14, and that maverick independent P C George will hold on to his fortress in Poonjar.

Thus, of the 115 seats reviewed so far, the Left has an edge in 63, the UDF in 50, and the BJP should take Manjeshwaram. We see the Left sweeping North Malabar, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) renewing its dominance in Malappuram, a messy three-way affair in Palakkad and Thrissur, and an unexpected upset by the Congress and UDF in the hill seats of Idukki. Yet, as we shall also see, nothing is ever cut and dried in an Indian election.

In the 14 urban seats of Ernakulam district, eight are forecast for the UDF and six for the Left. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not predicted to make great waves here.

Prima facie, this is par for the course; Kochi is a Christian-dominated city, and has been a Congress bastion for ages. That is why Rahul Gandhi might get away with giving local students Aikido lessons, as he did this week, instead of campaigning on socio-economic issues.

However, half the seats in Ernakulam are extremely close contests, and the survey forecasts a higher vote share for the Left, along with a net gain of one seat.

The Muslim League is actually projected to lose their pet borough of Kalamasseri. In Kochi seat, the UDF is beset with rebel worries, which may end up shaving their slender 1 per cent lead on date into the negative.

In Thripunithura, a shift from the UDF to the BJP is aiding the LDF.

A fledgling AAP-type outfit called Twenty-Twenty is expected to eat into UDF votes in a few key seats. And, in seats like Kunnathunad and Muvattupuzha, the very possible shift of the dominant Jacobite vote, to the BJP, may also end up hurting the Congress badly as well.

So, it is equally possible that the LDF may do better than predicted in Ernakulam, at the UDF’s expense. This is mainly because, the recently-stitched up alliance between the Left, and the Christian Kerala Congress of Jose K Mani (the KEC, who had been a resolute UDF constituent for decades), appears to be aiding the Left in not just weathering anti-incumbency, but in making gains too.

Little else explains why or how the IUML’s Ebrahim Kunju may be unseated from the assembly, after decades of winning without ever breaking a sweat.

Apologists might attribute Kunju’s defeat to allegations of his involvement in a bridge building scam, but history teaches us that Muslim League candidates are demographically inoculated from such travails. So this time, if Kunju loses, the truth will lie in adverse election math.

This winning combination of communists and Christians, though, appears to stutter slightly when we come to the glinting backwaters of Alappuzha district in Travancore. Of the nine seats here, the Left is set to get only five, dropping three from its sweep of 2016; the UDF gains those three to make four.

However, a high degree of unpredictability enters calculations here, because of a stoutly-rising BJP.

In the rice bowl seat of Kuttanad, which the survey gives to the Congress by a whisker, the BJP was already at 24 per cent before candidates were finalised, and any real campaigning began.

In Chengannur, the BJP is already up to 28 per cent as per the survey, and growing on the back of an expanding Ezhava OBC vote base corralled by their local ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (the BDJS; an Ezhava OBC party).

The inference thus, is that the departure of the Hindu vote to the BJP and its allies will hurt the UDF more in Alappuzha, since the Left will offset their own negative vote swing via the KEC’s Christian votes (which too, is actually a debit from the UDF tally).

That means the Left could cover up some of their projected losses over the coming fortnight, and do better than predicted in this district.

There is, though, no such confusion in Kottayam district, the Christian heartland of Kerala. Here, the Left and the Christian KEC are expected to sweep six of the nine seats on offer – a vital gain of four from 2016. It is plain electoral arithmetic, and pure vote banking, which makes Pinarayi Vijayan’s hopelessly incompetent handling of the Wuhan virus epidemic seem like a work of fiction.

The only exception is Poonjar seat, where independent MLA P C George is once again on the warpath. He’s quite a character; no one can ever be quite sure what he stands for, or whom he stands with, but he has decimated the Congress in his area, and last reported, was caught on tape angrily abusing Muslim constituents who refused him entry into their locality.

Thankfully, no such heavy drama is encountered when we travel to Pathanamthitta district. The Left is set to sweep all five seats here – again, on the back of a tie up with the Kerala Congress.

One incongruity in the survey is the absence of a BJP wave in these parts. Going by conventional wisdom, one would have expected the BJP to make visible gains, because this is the epicentre of the Sabarimala agitation; and more so, since BJP state president, K Surendran, is standing from Konni constituency in this district (a second seat in addition to Majeshwaram in North Malabar).

In conclusion then, even with the two southernmost districts of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram yet to be reviewed, the higher probability already appears to be that the Left could be returned for a second term. Perhaps this is what happens when Congress leaders choose Aikido lessons over hard-nosed campaigning.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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