Kerala exit poll projections: Sabarimala did little to consolidate Hindu votes for BJP, say analysts

The exit poll results of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala, which voted on 23 April, does not indicate a Hindu consolidation in favour of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The saffron party had viewed the Sabarimala women’s entry issue as a golden opportunity to increase its foothold in the state, however, most of the exit polls suggest only a minor increase in the total vote share of the BJP. According to the Mathrubhumi News-Geowide India exit poll results, the NDA share will go up from 10.81 percent in 2014 Lok Sabha election to 16 percent in 2019.

There is nothing much to cheer for the BJP in this increase since its alliance, though gained in vote share as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the saffron vote share (16 percent) is the same as the party had recorded during the 2016 Assembly election in Kerala. This means the party has not got any benefit across the state from the religious issue. The exit poll survey also does not predict a win for the party in Pathanamthitta, the hotspot of the Sabarimala protests.

 Kerala exit poll projections: Sabarimala did little to consolidate Hindu votes for BJP, say analysts

File image of BJP candidate from Thiruvananthapuram Kummanam Rajashekharan. Twitter@Kummanam

The exit polls suggest a sizeable gap between BJP candidate K Surendran who was at the forefront of the Sabarimala protests and the Congress candidate Anto Antony in Pathanamthitta, where the temple is located. The only seat where the exit polls give BJP a chance is Thiruvananthapuram, where party had ended runner up in the 2014 Lok Sabha election without any emotive issues such as Sabarimala.

Political analysts believe that a slight edge that exit polls have predicted for Kummanam Rajasekharan (BJP candidate from Thiruvananthapuram) in the state capital is not on account of Sabarimala but due to the natural growth of the saffron party’s votes in the constituency and the stature of the candidate. The BJP had won its only seat in the Assembly from the Nemom segment of the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency in 2016.

"If Sabarimala issue had led to a Hindu polarisation, Kummanam and Surendran would have won Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta hands down. None of the exit polls are suggesting an easy victory for both. I personally believe that the exit poll giving an edge to Kummanam will turn out to be wrong," says Sunnykutty Abraham, a senior journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram.

Apart from Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta another constituency where BJP has shown an increase in its vote share is Thrissur, where the appeal of its candidate Suresh Gopi as an actor is likely to be the key factor rather than the Sabarimala issue.

The exit polls does not indicate any substantial increase in the BJP vote share in the other Lok Sabha constituencies either. On the contrary, the saffron votes have dropped from 16 percent to 12 percent in Palakkad, which was in the list of the seats that BJP was counting on.

Political analysts see this as a clear indication that the Hindus in Kerala are still not ready to embrace the Hindutva politics that helped the BJP sweep the cow belt. Left-leaning analyst NP Chekutty said that the Hindus in the state are strongly rooted in the secular tradition and they will not fall for BJP’s political gimmicks.

The exit polls, however, have sent alarm bells ringing in the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which was hoping that the BJP growth in Kerala will affect only its traditional rival. The left camp remained confident because the sharp rise in the BJP votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and 2016 Assembly election had led to big loss for the UDF.

The confidence stemmed from the feeling that the lower caste and backward Hindus who traditionally supported the left won’t change their political affiliation. However, the Sabarimala issue seems to have caused a crack in this solid vote bank.

This is evident from the sharp fall in the LDF vote share predicted by the exit polls. Most of the exit polls, including two by two leading Malayalam television channels, have indicated a 3 to 5 percent dip in the LDF vote share in the current election.

The Mathrubhumi News-Geowide India exit poll results show the LDF vote share coming down from 40 percent in 2014 to 37 percent in 2019. The Manorama News-Karvy Insights give LDF only 36 percent votes this time. This shows that the over five percent additional votes that the NDA garnered this time as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls have come entirely from the left kitty and not the UDF.

File image of K Surendran. Facebook

File image of K Surendran. Facebook

In fact, a sizeable number of LDF votes seems to have also gone to the Congress-led UDF, whose vote share shows an increase from 42 percent in 2014 to 43 percent in 2019. In the past, the LDF had mostly benefited from an increase in  BJP vote share.

The LDF had increased its seats from four in 2009 to eight in 2014 when the BJP vote share saw a substantial increase from 6.44 percent to 10.81 percent. This was despite a marginal fall in the LDF vote share from 41.97 percent in 2009 to 40.11 percent in 2014.

Constituency-wise analysis of vote share, as predicted by exit polls, reveals LDF losing wherever BJP is gaining. For example, the LDF has been pushed to third position in Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta that BJP expected to win this time. The exit poll has predicted an easy win for LDF candidate at Palakkad, where the BJP vote share is found dropping from 15 percent in 2014 to 12 percent now.

The exit polls indicate a division in the Hindu votes between the NDA and the UDF. In fact, Congress leaders believe that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had decided to implement the 28 September Supreme Court verdict allowing entry to women of all ages in the Ayyaappa temple in a haste hoping that it will take their traditional Hindu votes to the BJP and help his camp indirectly.

But in effect, the LDF has seen a sizeable flow of Hindu votes to both the NDA and the UDF. Political analysts feel this coupled with a minority consolidation could be the key factor in a sweep the pollsters have indicated for UDF this time. Most of the surveys have predicted 14 to 16 seats for UDF, four to six seats for LDF and one for the BJP.

The UDF had won 12 seats in the 2014 polls while the LDF had managed to win eight seats. The LDF could win eight seats in the last election because of division in the minority votes that traditionally favoured the UDF. The left made major gains in Muslim and Christian belts in the last two elections by playing the Hndutva card against the Congress and projecting itself as the saviour of the minorities.

The virtual sweep the exit polls have predicted for the UDF in Muslim-dominated northern districts and the Christian-dominated Central Kerala shows that Rahul’s candidature may have helped the UDF in regaining the minority votes that went to the LDF in the last two elections. With Rahul leading the fight against the BJP, the LDF's claim as the saviour of minorities lost its relevance.

The biggest concern in the LDF camp, however, is the erosion in its Hindu vote bank. A substantial chunk of lower caste and backward Hindu communities that formed the backbone of Communist parties seem to have deserted the LDF on account of the Sabarimala issue.

The CPM has not given any credence to the exit polls. The chief minister claimed that they will win majority of the seats. However, left strategists find the trend dangerous. They have warned that if the growth of the BJP continues, the saffron party may walk into their space as in West Bengal and complete the total fall of left citadels in the country.

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Updated Date: May 20, 2019 22:35:44 IST