Kerala 2024: Decoded

Venu Gopal Narayanan

Jun 06, 2024, 02:29 PM | Updated 08:50 PM IST

Suresh Gopi wins in Thrissur for the BJP.
Suresh Gopi wins in Thrissur for the BJP.
  • BJP's historic win in Thrissur, Kerala, brings new hope to the party's southern aspirations.
  • As gloom mounted on counting day, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slipped below the halfway mark, the noble axe-born of Parashurama’s land offered some ameliorative cheer, by returning a lotus to Parliament for the very first time.

    Award-winning actor Suresh Gopi’s perseverance finally paid off in Thrissur, Kerala’s cultural capital, where he registered a modest, solitary, yet highly significant victory for the BJP against great odds.

    It overshadowed the other big news which emerged from the state: a buoyant resurgence of the Communists was triumphantly nipped in the bud by their titular ‘allies’, the Congress, and restricted to a lone win in Alathur seat of central Kerala.

    Of the 20 seats up for grabs, the Congress-led coalition (called the United Democratic Front, or UDF, in Kerala) won 18 seats. Of these, 14 were won by the Congress.

    The Communists’ coalition, the Left Democratic Front (LDF), not only failed to recapture its traditional strongholds for the second time running, but also had to face the ignominy of watching their star, former health minister KK Shailaja Teacher, lose by a sizeable margin in Vadakara to Shafi Parambil.

    Adding insult to injury, the irony is that Parambil, the sitting MLA for Palakkad assembly seat, was given a Congress ticket only because the party realised at the last minute that it needed at least one Muslim face on its list.

    The fact that Parambil nonetheless won in Vadakara is a pertinent reflection of how some communities voted, both in Kerala, and in a few other parts of the country.

    Heading into the election, it was expected that the Kerala Congress of Jose K Mani (KEC(M)), a party of the Christians which switched from the Congress to the Left in 2020, would provide, with the blessings of the Church, a portion of the Left’s recovery in multiple seats.

    However, that was not to be, and on the contrary, the vote share of the Left went up materially from 2019 in only one seat – Alathur.

    Intriguingly, and as the seat-wise data table above shows, even as the Congress-led UDF swept Kerala, both the UDF and the LDF lost votes to the BJP. Note how the BJP and its ally, the Bharata Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), gained almost equally from the other two coalitions.

    Of course, the UDF did gain from the LDF, but only in a few seats (see the number of reds in the UDF vote swing column). In that sense, these results are a reverse of the 2016 assembly elections in which, both the UDF and the LDF lost votes to the BJP, but the LDF ended up winning because it lost less.

    Why did this happen in 2024? Why did the KEC(M) fail to secure the Christian vote for its Left partners, like it did so successfully in the 2021 assembly elections?

    The answer is that, this time, the identity vote consolidated more effectively under the Congress; and whether anyone disputes this point, or takes umbrage, the bald truth is that the diktats of the Church went unheeded by those many who saw greater electoral sense in supporting someone they could identify with more clearly. Someone, who walked their talk.

    The Bharat Jodo Yatra worked. The meeting with a hate mongering pastor worked. Supporting clergy-led protesters at Vizhinjam worked. Contesting once more from Wayanad worked. The Manipur narrative worked. So much so that the Left, which had harboured a realistic hope of winning the Indian Union Muslim League’s (IUML) bastion of Ponnani in Malabar, on the back of a perceived disaffection among Muslim youth, was left nowhere in that race.

    The Left’s wooing of the IUML, something which had been giving the Congress sleepless nights for two years, and their assumption that the KEC(M) would pull its weight, were both effectively countered by the Congress and its messaging.

    This meant that the Left was now largely down to its own core vote base of the Ezhava community (around a quarter of the state’s population), and it is to their credit that the Left was successfully able to keep that traditionally loyal core intact. Unfortunately, the victim of that successful endeavour was once again the BJP.

    A perpetual hindrance to the BJP’s growth in Kerala has been its inability to attract the Ezhava vote from the Left in bulk. This is what has repeatedly stifled the BJP, and it happened again in 2024.

    Look at the vote swings for Thrissur: the BJP’s lone win was wrested by a 10 per cent gain in vote share, almost entirely from the Congress. The Left candidate’s vote share actually went up by 0.1 per cent.

    It was the same situation in Thiruvananthapuram, another seat where the BJP stood an excellent chance of winning, but which it eventually lost by a narrow margin of 16,077 votes: while the BJP successfully gained 4 per cent from the Congress candidate, Shashi Tharoor, Rajeev Chandrashekhar failed to win because he couldn’t get those few vital additional votes from the Communists (who held on to their 2019 vote share).

    So too, in Attingal seat, where Minister V Muraleedharan lost agonizingly by a truly proverbial whisker in a perfectly triangular contest.

    The BJP was successful in attracting almost 5 per cent from the Congress, and an additional 1.4 per cent from ‘Others’, but gained less than 1 per cent from the Left. In the end, the Congress’s victory margin was a mere 684 votes.

    On the other hand, BJP candidate Shoba Surendran’s sizzling campaign in the coastal seat of Alappuzha saw a positive vote swing of 11 per cent. Nine per cent of that gain came from the Left.

    Both figures, rise in vote share, and gain from the Left, are the highest for the BJP in Kerala. The same was effected to a slightly lesser degree by the BJP and its candidate C Krishnakumar in Palakkad seat.

    Thus, in conclusion, the simple point is that if the BJP had managed to overcome its Achilles Heel by even a tiny bit, four lotuses might have been merrily winging their way to Delhi, instead of just one.

    The day the BJP cracks this code, it will send a lot more such flowers to not just Parliament, but to the provincial assembly as well.

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

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.