Cyclical swings in the votes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been playing a crucial role in the outcome of elections in Kerala.
The swings noticed in every alternate election since the BJP hit the poll fray in 1982 have found to have always benefited the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) except in 2006, when the benefit went to the Left Democratic Front (LDF).
Curiously, the state started witnessing wild swings from one front to the other, bringing the UDF and LDF to power alternately since 1982. The UDF government that included the Communist Party of India (CPI) is the only incumbent government that was ever re-elected in Kerala since the Independence. This government remained in power from 1970 to 1980.
The BJP entered the fray for the first time in the 1982 Assembly election by contesting 69 seats in the 140-member house. It registered its presence by polling 2.75 percent of the total polled votes. The UDF won the election then with 77 seats.
When the BJP recorded its all time high vote share of 6.47 percent in the next election in 1987 the UDF tally came down to 61 seats. The LDF, which got power with 79 seats, got a margin of 5.34 percent votes over the UDF then.
A 1.8 percentage point swing in the BJP votes in the next election in 1991 saw the UDF getting power with 90 seats. The vote margin of the UDF over the LDF then was a mere 3.18 percent as against the BJP vote share of 4.67 percent. This means that the BJP votes accounted for 56 percent of the margin.
The LDF romped home with 81 seats in the 1996 election when the BJP vote share rose to 5.48 percent. When it came down to 5.01 percent in 2001 the UDF secured 100 seats. The trend saw an exception in 2006 when the LDF got the benefit of a 0.25 percentage point swing in the BJP votes.
The minor swing towards the LDF saw the UDF tally coming down to 40 seats. The UDF could get only 72 seats in the 2011 election in the absence of any swing in BJP votes in its favour. The saffron party had increased its votes from 4.76 percent in 2006 to 6.03 percent in the 2011 elections.
A similar trend was also visible in the Lok Sabha elections. The UDF maintained a tally of 11 to 17 seats when the BJP vote share ranged between 1.75 and 8.2 percent. It tumbled down to just 1 seat in 2004, when the BJP polled its highest vote share of 10.39 percent.
If the trend is any indication, there will not be any swing in the BJP votes in favour of the UDF in the coming election. In fact, political observers are expecting a quantum jump for the BJP as the party is making a strong bid to make an electoral breakthrough in the state this time. This could be disastrous for the UDF, which is trying to rewrite the state’s four-decade-long electoral history of electing the two fronts alternately.
Though most pre-poll surveys do not indicate any sign of an anti-incumbency wave against the current UDF government and some even show Oommen Chandy as the most popular choice for chief ministership, all the surveys, including the latest Asianet-C fore survey, predict victory for the LDF.
Is this because of the BJP factor? All the surveys say the BJP will open its account this time in the state. The Asianet-C fore survey released on Saturday says the party will win three to five seats by increasing its vote to an all time high of 13 percent in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
The survey showed Oommen Chandy stealing a march over the LDF’s chief ministerial prospect V S Achuthanandan for the first time. While 29 percent of the respondents favoured Chandy, Achuthanandan got the backing of only 26 percent.
The BJP gain is possible because it has stitched together a third front for the first time in the state. Though the party had tried to make a strong bid for power by consolidating the Hindu votes that account for 54 percent of the total population in the state, it could rope in only one of the major two Hindu groups and some minor caste organisations.
UDF strategists, however, do not believe that the BJP’s alliance with Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a party formed by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, a powerful organisation that represents the backward Ezhava community, may not help the BJP much since it has alienated the upper caste Nair community from the party.
Moreover, a large section of the Ezhava community has still not reconciled with the political moves of the SNDP. The UDF also believe that the alliance with the BJP may hurt the LDF most since the lower class Ezhavas are the backbone of the communist movement in the state.
However, the local body elections held in November last year has proved this wrong. The electoral understanding between the BJP and the BDJS then had affected the UDF, which lost nearly 1/3rd of the local bodies it won in 2010.
Political observers see no chance for BJP to gift its votes to either the UDF or LDF in the current election. Writer and political commentator N M Pearson said the BJP’s attempt this time would be to gain additional votes besides securing its entire traditional votes.
“The party had transferred votes in the past as its supporters did not see any chance for the BJP to win the election. This time the party has entered the fray saying that they are fighting the election to come to power. Even though the BJP supporters do not believe this will happen in the near future, they think that the party can win few seats this time. This may lead to a mobilisation of BJP votes, “says Pearson.
The cyclical swings in the BJP votes is also seen by political observers the result of mass transfer of votes to the UDF, either under a secret pact or as part of a determined bid by the Rashtriya Swayasam Sevak Sangh (RSS), which is daggers drawn with the CPI(M) in their strongholds in many parts of the state, especially the northern district of Kannur, to prevent the LDF from coming to power. The CPI(M) calls it votes trading.
The secret pact became evident in the 1991 general elections when the UDF and the BJP fielded common candidates in the Vatakara Lok Sabha constituency and the Beypore assembly constituency. The LDF had alleged that the secret pact then had covered as many as 40 assembly constituencies.
Allegations regarding vote trading used to come up during every election since then. This time too, the CPI(M) has alleged such a secret understanding between the Congress and the BJP. Party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan says as per the ‘’secret pact’’ both parties will help each other in Thiruvananthapuram in favour of Congress candidate V S Sivakumar and BJP leader O Rajagopal in Nemom.
The CPI(M) cites the Congress decision to leave the Nemom seat to its ally that has no base there to support its allegation. Nemom, where Rajagopal himself had come second in the 2011 Assembly polls and came first in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, tops the list of seats that BJP hopes to win in the election this time.
Apart from this, there are also allegations regarding a secret pact between the Congress and the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a major ally of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) representing the backward Ezhava, the largest Hindu group in the state.
Prominent Ezhava leader Vidyasagar says BDJS president Thushar Vellappally and his father Vellappally Natesan had made the secret pact with UDF to transfer Ezhava votes out of their fear that the LDF would pursue the corruption cases filed against them by CPI(M) leader V S Achuthanandan if they come to power.
Interestingly, the allegation has not had many takers. BJP leaders say that people have not taken them seriously as they know that the Congress is the main enemy of the BJP at the national level. A senior party leader, who did not want to be identified said, that the party’s national leadership will not tolerate any attempt to help the Congress in the state as it will help the party to assert more at the national level.
He pointed out that party all-India president Amit Shah was maintaining a close watch of the entire election proceedings right from the selection of candidates with a determination to make its electoral breakthrough in the state. He wants the party to put up its best show in this election.
“How can we gift our votes when we are trying to provide a third alternative in the state? We have been focusing on consolidating our votes in the last one decade. This can be clearly seen in the votes being polled by the party since 2006. We have recorded the all time high vote share of 14 percent in the local body elections in 2015,” the leader pointed out.
Political observers attribute the sudden rise in the BJP votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 2015 civic body polls to the Modi wave. In fact, a major poll theme of the party in the election is the developmental works being carried out by the Prime Minister at the Centre.
The local BJP leaders hope that Modi’s campaign in the state would boost its prospects. His visit to Kollam to see the temple fireworks mishap victims on 10 April has already stimulated the BJP supporters. Though the Prime Minister is scheduled to address six public meetings, the dates have not been finalised so far.
Even though the trend favours the LDF this time, the outcome could be historical if the BJP alliance with the BDJS helps the party to make inroads into the LDF votes, mainly in the southern districts, where the Ezhavas constitute a major chunk of the electorate.