A swing in minority votes will decide the outcome in the Assembly polls in Kerala in favour of either of the two traditional rival fronts led by the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
A major swing in the Muslim and Christian votes that traditionally went to Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) saw the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by CPM coming to power in the 2006 elections with 98 seats in the 140-member Assembly.
Analysis of the seats won by various parties showed that the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the sole arbiter of Muslims in the state, and the Kerala Congress and its splinter groups, championing the interest of Christians, had suffered a huge loss in both Muslim and Christian belts in the 2006 polls.
The IUML, which had won 16 seats in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district and other Muslim pockets in other districts in the 2001 elections, could get only seven seats in the 2006 election. Similarly, the number of seats of the three factions of Kerala Congress came down from 13 in 2001 to nine seats in 2006.
The IUML increased its seats to 20 and the Kerala Congress factions to 11 in 2011, when the United Democratic Front (UDF) came to power with a wafer thin majority of just 72 seats. The UDF could wrest only 16 seats in the belt from the LDF then.
The LDF had its highest haul of 34 seats in the Muslim and Christian belts in 2006. It had wrested as many as 31 seats from the UDF then. The opposition front managed to retain 18 seats in the 2011 elections, when it lost the power by just three seats.
Poll observers view this as the result of swings in the Christian and Muslim votes. Such wild swings were never witnessed in the past elections in Kerala. While Muslims stood solidly behind the IUML and the Christians behind the Kerala Congress or the Indian National Congress till 2006.
The IUML had won 14 seats in 1982, 15 in 1987, 19 in 1991 and 13 in 1996. However, there has been a slight fluctuation in the seats won by the Kerala Congress factions. This is mainly because of splits and defections in the Kerala Congress. The two major factions of the Kerala Congress had won the maximum number of 14 seats when they were in the UDF.
This came down to nine in 1987 when one faction switched over to the LDF. The Kerala Congress (J), which went to the LDF, had to content with just one seat in the next polls in 1991, while the other three factions in the UDF got as many as 12 seats. When the Joseph faction returned to the UDF before the 2011 elections, the Kerala Congress could regain the past glory to some extent by winning 11 seats.
The analysis demolishes the myth that the Muslims and Christians consider the IUML and the Kerala Congress are their sole arbiters. They had stood solidly behind these parties when they aligned with the UDF because of their fear that the Communists were against their faith.
However, these fears were found unfounded with the Communist-led governments never making any attempt to interfere with their faiths. They started reposing their trust in the LDF after the CPM allowed their comrades to follow their faith and made conscious efforts to reach out to them by defending their rights and challenging the attacks on them in various parts of the country.
If the periodical swings in the minority votes since 2001 are taken into consideration, the swing this time is likely to favour the LDF. Political observers see the gains the LDF has made in the civic polls in Malappuram and the Christian-dominated Central Travancore as an indication of how the minority votes will behave in the current election.
Left leaning political analyst N M Pearson feels that the Muslims had rallied behind the IUML in the past as they had no other alternatives. The emergence of Indian National League (INL), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Social Democatic Party of India (SDPI) and the Welfare Party in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition has ended the IUML monopoly over the Muslim votes.
“Though many of these parties have not gained the strength to win elections, they have the potential to defeat the IUML. The CPM has been using them overtly and covertly to their advantage by playing up the threats to the minorities from the bid by the Sangh Parivar to consolidate the Hindu votes,” says Pearson.
He said Muslims had backed the LDF in the local body elections held in November last year as the wave of intolerance sweeping the country had confounded their fears. The CPM had cashed in on this by launching protests against the Dadri lynching and a series of beef festivals across the state.
Pearson thinks that the situation may return to normal as the intolerance wave has lost its intensity among the people in the state now. However, he does not rule out a minor swing of Muslim votes in favour of the LDF in the coming elections. The CPM has sought to create a division in the IUML votes by fielding many prominent Muslim personalities in the election this time.
Pearson feels this may sometimes backfire as the candidates picked up by the CPM are mostly businessmen, who were aligned with the IUML previously. The profile of the candidates does not match their accusation that the IUML is a party of elites.
E T Mohammed Basheer, Kerala IUML union general secretary and MP, said the CPM’s attempt to project itself as the protector of the minorities will not succeed as the people are aware that the Left parties do not have the strength to take on fascist forces at the national level.
“The only party that can challenge the Sangh Parivar throughout the country is the Congress. Therefore, the Muslims will strengthen the Congress by voting the UDF to power in the Assembly elections in the state,” he added.
The IUML leader said that the setback the IUML suffered in Malappuram in the local body elections cannot be taken as a barometer as the issues in the Assembly elections are different. He also attributed the defeat the IUML suffered in certain pockets in the district to the division in the UDF.
“We have solved these issues and are fully geared to face the election unitedly throughout the state. We are confident that the IUML will improve its tally of seats and help the UDF to retain power for another term,” he added.
The state of the Christian votes is slightly different with several interest groups emerging in the community. The CPM has been trying reach out to the community through these groups. It ensured the support of the Church in the high ranges of Idukki and Wayanad districts by sponsoring the High Range Samrakshana Samithi (HRSS) that came into existence by opposing the Congress stand on the Gadgil committee report on the protection of the Western Ghats.
The CPM ensured the defeat of the Congress candidate at Idukki in the Lok Sabha election by lending support to the HRSS candidate Joyce George. This time, the party has additionally aligned with a splinter group of the Kerala Congress (M) led by former MP Francis George to strengthen its position in the Christian belt.
The dissidents came out of the UDF after many of their prominent leaders were denied seat to contest the election. Pearson said that several such groups were active in the Christian community which are trying to use the LDF for their gains.
“The CPM is dancing to their tunes. This will not help the LDF as it may alienate their traditional Hindu votes. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt to stitch together a grand alliance with the help of caste organisations like the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SND) Yogam will upset the political equations in the state,” says Pearson.
Pearson is of the opinion that the grant alliance will eat into the votes of the LDF more as the lower caste Ezhava community that SNDP represents has been the main backbone of the CPM for long. He feels that the BJP might upset the LDF’s applecart if the SNDP and other Hindu organisations fuel a Hindu consolidation in the election as they expected.
However, Pearson and other political commentators like N P Chekutty and Jacob George do not think that the Hindu consolidation may remain as an illusion for the BJP at least now. However, they say that the grant alliance could inflict damage to both the rival fronts.
They say that the BJP-led alliance may not win many seats but it will certainly tilt the balance in favour of either the UDF or the LDF. But none of them are ready to risk a guess at this point. All they say is that Kerala may witness a neck and neck race in the elections to be held on 16 May.