If exit polls are to be believed, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala will have a decisive victory in Kerala.
That's not the big highlight. That honour belongs to the predicted failure of the Bhartiya Janata Party's (BJP) alliance — despite its recent alliance with Vellappally Natesan's Bhartiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and the star campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — to make strong inroads in this state that is dominated by bipolar politics.
The Axis-My India exit poll gives none to three seats to the NDA, while forecasting 88-101 seats to the LDF and 38-48 seats to the UDF.
The LDF's victory, if the exit polls are accurate, will be a gift by the Congress-led UDF that has spent most of its five-year term excelling in the art of embracing scams ranging from Solar-Saritha to bar-bribery to flip-flops in liquor policies, with no major development progress to show. But even if the BJP ends up with one or two seats in the state (far from being a kingmaker), the bigger question is whether its new-found love for the BDJS marks the end of bipolar politics in the southern state.
Political analysts see the BJP’s poll alliance with Hindu Ezhavas by tying up with Natesan's BDJS is a landmark move in the state’s political history since Ezhavas constitute a sizeable chunk of the Hindu population in the state, whose votes are traditionally divided between the Left and Right.
It’s also a marked shift in the perception of the BJP in the state where the party is typically associated with Hindu upper castes.
If exit polls offer any clue, this strategy hasn’t worked in a big way as far as turning BJP into a deciding force in the state’s power equations is concerned. The none to three seats predicted for the NDA in the exit polls are in Kazargod and Thiruvananthapuram, which are the traditional strong centres of the BJP.
The experimental alliance was expected to aid the party by a much bigger margin in central Kerala — something that has seemingly flopped. As Anathalavatoam Anandan, CPM state secretariat member said, the BJP's assumption that the entire Hindu-Ezhava strength in Kerala is rught behind Natesan is proving wrong. Nevertheless, even if the BJP falls short of playing the role of kingmaker, the big question is whether it can significantly increase its vote share across the state.
The BJP had a vote share of 6.03 percent in the 2011 state Assembly elections as compared with the UDF's 45.83 percent of UDF and the LDF's 44.94 percent. This vote-share rose to 14 percent in the November 2015 local body polls, an obvious outcome of its poll understanding with BDJS. If the NDA can pull off a bigger margin this time, it will set the stage for a more sustained presence for the BJP in the state.
Of the 54.72 percent Hindu population in Kerala, less than half are Ezhava votes, which are traditionally divided between the UDF and LDF (a bigger chunk to the latter) since the two fronts were formed in the 1970s.
This time, which way this segment swings in the Assembly polls will be critical in deciding the final outcome. If the BJP-BDJS combine works wonders to draw votes to the BJP-led alliance, it will rewrite the bipolar politics that has dominated the southern state in the last several decades.
On the other hand, which way the minority vote swings, is also a key question. The key minorities — Christian and Muslim — constitute 45 percent of the state. Of this, Muslims are the bigger chunk making up 26.56 percent of the population. Traditionally, this community has put its support behind the UDF ally, the Indian Muslim League (IML) but one should understand that the trend has been changing as the LDF seeks to widen its hold in traditional IML strongholds in Malabar.
Modi's high-profile campaign in the state eventually turned into a last minute embarrassment for the party after the prime minister's comparison of the state’s Scheduled Tribes with Somalians. This created a massive social media wave against Modi and the BJP.
But, how much of this social media war has impacted the actual votes can be assessed only after the poll outcome is announced on Thursday. To be sure, Modi spoke of the plight of STs in the state in the context of the infant mortality rate and did not compare the entire state to Somalia. But, even that comparison has been questioned as the data proved otherwise. For instance, according to this Firstpost column, Modi didn’t state the facts.
Another report in Business Standard shows that infant mortality in the state is lowest in the country, almost a third of the national average; comparing that with Somalia, at 85 deaths, again showing a huge disconnect. This perhaps caused an anti-Modi wave on social media not just in Kerala but across the country.
The BJP boosted its campaign by roping in star campaigners like film actor Suresh Gopi (who was recently nominated by the party to Rajya Sabha). Even the LDF and UDF have pitted well known film starts across the state. But, in Kerala’s legacy-driven political landscape, stardom has seldom worked unlike Tamil Nadu.
Exit polls can be way off the mark when the counting begins, as we have seen in the past. But, if they are any clue, the BJP’s polarisation strategy grouping Hindu–Ezhavas under its Hindutva banner has flopped in an effort to make a meaningful impact. But, the key question is whether the BJP-BDJS alliance can set the foundation for a competitive third front in the state by improving its vote-share.
Only two days stand between us and the answer.
Updated Date: May 18, 2016 17:28 PM