Key Takeaways From Kerala Verdict 2021
A rejuvenated Left, a bumbling Congress, and a lost BJP.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) of Pinarayi Vijayan has been returned in Kerala with an enhanced mandate, for a unique, second consecutive term.
The coalition’s senior partner, Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPM, alone won 62 seats in a house of 140. This marks the start of a new phase of politics in the state.
The starkest election trend is that where the Left won, they won big, while where the Congress’s United Democratic Front (UDF) won, they did so by slender margins.
To be fair to Vijayan, he led from the front, and assiduously milked a radical tie-up with the Christian Kerala Congress of Jose K Mani (the KEC, who till mid-2020, had been a UDF ally for many decades).
The majority of the Christian vote obediently shifted from the UDF to the LDF, allowing the Left to sweep entire districts, and make significant gains in the Christian belt which had hitherto sided with the Congress.
Ironically, Jose K Mani lost rather badly to MC Kappan, an ostensible independent. But this actually works to Pinarayi Vijayan’s advantage: he now gets to enjoy the benefits of the new Christian bloc vote in his kitty, without the headache and nuisance of having to deal with a prima donna dynast in his cabinet (Jose K Mani’s father is the late KM Mani, Christian patriarch of central Kerala, and once an accused in the notorious Bar Bribery case. Mani Jr. fancied himself as the next Finance Minister if the Left won).
Also, Kappan, who has now emerged as the new Christian powerhouse in Kerala politics, had been with the Left till very recently, so his prodigal return to the LDF at some point of time is pretty much a given (indeed, those in the know speak of his return in months, rather than in years).
This means that Jose K Mani may have to swallow his pride and return to the Congress fold in due course, or, more likely, resurrect his flagging political career by tying up with the BJP.
A number of Muslims have also deserted the Congress, giving the LDF a few welcome, surprise victories in central and north Kerala. KM Shaji, the Muslim League’s strongman lost in Azhikode; and the Left’s KT Jaleel, allegedly involved in multiple cases ranging from nepotism through smuggling, won unexpectedly in Thavanur.
Most importantly, the OBC Ezhava vote, which forms the backbone of the Left in Kerala, has stayed loyal to the hammer and sickle.
There was a lot of talk in the run up to the elections, that this time, a significant chunk would shift to the BJP. That hasn’t happened. On the contrary, the Left has actually improved its vote share in some seats, where the BJP had begun to mark a presence.
All in all, a renewed mandate has permitted the Left to conveniently absolve themselves of their miserable handling of the epidemic; and, of the perilous position they have reduced the state’s finances to.
This is how pure remittance states function, in splendid isolation from the rest of the country, and we got a hint of that in a public statement by A Vijayaraghavan, a senior Communist, soon after most of the results were declared: he said that this verdict was a stinging, public riposte to Modi and the Centre’s poor handling of the epidemic.
Evidently, in Communist provinces, health magically shifts to the Union list. Go figure.
India’s oldest party, and her motley allies, have learnt to their chagrin that secularism, like crime, doesn’t pay. Most of the Congress’s Hindu candidates flopped serially, especially in Hindu-dominated seats. Whatever superficial tokenism they held on to for the past few elections is now gone for good, and the Congress, as repeatedly assessed by Swarajya earlier, has become a formal subset of the Muslim League.
They were also battered badly by the shift of the Muslim vote to the Left; the Muslim League’s traditionally-gargantuan victory margins were whittled to the bone, and in some cases, they lost.
MK Muneer, dynast scion of hallowed League aristocracy, who was forced to hastily evacuate Kozhikode South seat to Koduvally, because defeat was imminent, won by just 6,000-plus votes (and only because the BJP, of all parties, fared poorly there).
That merits a key question: Quo Vadis Rahul Gandhi? His party lost three assembly seats in his Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency, and won in the other four segments only by heavily reduced margins.
Combined with the severity of Congress losses in Assam, West Bengal and Puducherry, that means his party is reduced to a stepney of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and little else.
Perhaps, the answer to our question then, is a circle, winding into a descending spiral?
This is no joke, because the sustained departure of votes from the Congress and the UDF transcends demographics; pertinently, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who has won consistently with ease from Puthupally for half a century, had to struggle hard this time, against a red, Young Turk half his age.
Still, you have to hand it to the Congress-led UDF, for actually thinking that they could secure a mandate without the Hindu vote; perhaps, there is an award for such audacity awaiting them in another space-time dimension.
The truth cannot be sugar-coated: the BJP fared poorly. They failed to win a single seat. Everyone’s Metroman, E Sreedharan, lost in Palakkad. For the resources the party mobilised, and the efforts they expended, this is an unacceptable return on investment.
The biggest takeaway is that the Sabarimala issue didn’t work in their favour. To make it worse, the unavoidable symbolism of the Left’s victory in Kazhakkootam seat, where Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran beat the BJP’s Shobha Surendran, means that the Marxists will crow about this for years to come.
There’s no point complaining since the BJP’s strategy was rather insipid, to say the least; an excessive focus on star campaigners and celebrity candidates, instead of further bolstering good old fashioned grassroots networks, has let them down.
As a result, their vote share in Kerala has declined by four whole per cent points.
Perhaps, it is time for the party’s state unit to go back to the drawing board, understand that Sabarimala is not Ayodhya, adopt a bottom-up approach, and come up with what they should have done in the first place – an economic plan for Kerala.
Still, the elections are over, and a new assembly beckons. How that house will function is anyone’s guess, but the brazen manner in which the Left’s Vijayaraghavan washed his party’s hands off the epidemic, even as counting was on, doesn’t augur well for the next five years.
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