Kerala Assembly election results: A sign that BJP is emerging as the third alternative
A Hindu consolidation in favour of NDA led by the BJP cost the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front heavily in the assembly elections in Kerala
A Hindu consolidation in favour of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cost the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) heavily in the assembly elections in Kerala.
A seven percent shift in its votes saw the UDF losing 26 seats in the Hindu heartlands. Though the consolidation helped the NDA increase its vote share in the assembly polls from 6.3 percent in 2011 to nearly 16 percent in 2016, the benefit, in terms of seats, went to the Left Democratic Front (LDF)-led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The Left coalition lost only the Nemam seat in Thiruvananthapuram district in the saffron surge that saw the front fully sweeping the southern district of Kollam and winning all, but one seat in Thrissur district in central Kerala. The UDF that had won eight of the 24 seats in the two districts in the 2011 election had to content with just one seat. It won the Wadakkancherry seat by a margin of just 43 votes.
The macro data shows that the BJP votes in both the districts have more than doubled compared to the last election in 2011. In Kollam, where it came in second in the Chathanur constituency, the BJP has increased its votes from 2.07 lakhs in 2011 to 4.96 lakh votes in 2016. Similarly, the BJP votes in Thrissur district went up from 1.34 lakhs to 3.36 lakhs.
The LDF also made big gains in Thiruvananthapuram and Palakkad districts, where the BJP and its allies made big inroads into the UDF vote bank. The UDF lost six seats in the two districts compared to 2011.
The UDF has been able to withstand the saffron advance only in the minority belt. The coalition has lost only two seats in the Muslim dominated Malappuram district in north Kerala. It managed to retain the remaining six seats in constituencies in other districts where the Muslims have an edge.
Similarly, the UDF has been able to win 19 of the 22 seats it got in the 2011 elections in the Christian-dominated Ernakulam, Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts. The macro data shows that the UDF votes in the four districts have in fact gone up from 18.49 lakh votes in 2011 to 19.28 lakhs in 2016.
The BJP votes showed only a marginal increase of just 566 votes in these four districts compared to 2011. The BJP advance in Thrissur with several Christian pockets saw the UDF votes dropping from 7.38 lakhs in 2011 to 6.55 lakhs in 2016 and its seats coming down from six to one in this election. This shows that the LDF has won 12 of the 13 seats in the district due to the shift of UDF votes to the BJP and its allies.
The data shows that the LDF has got power at the cost of the UDF votes and not because of any anti-incumbency sentiments as it has claimed. In fact, the LDF’s vote share has come down from 44.9 percent in 2011 to 43 percent this time. This shows it lost nearly two percent votes to the NDA.
However, the NDA upsurge did not affect the LDF to the extent it hurt the UDF. Political observers believe that the impact of the growth in the BJP votes on LDF might have been less since the lower caste Hindu Ezhavas, who form a big chunk of Communists cadre in the state, remained firmly behind it this time.
Many had thought that BJP’s alliance with Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a political outfit of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, would lead to a flight of lower class Ezhavas, which are traditionally affiliated to the Communist parties, to the new party.
The poll results showed that they have refused to shift their age-old political affiliation. This is evident from the failure of BDJS to make any major impact in the election. The fledgling party could not even come to second position in any of the 37 seats it contested.
The party could get only the upper class Ezhava voters, who traditionally supported the UDF. The huge erosion in the UDF votes could be because of the shift in these votes. Apart from this, a section of the upper caste Nair community may also have deserted the UDF as a result of the attempts by the BJP to consolidate the Hindus against the alleged minority appeasement policy of the two dominant fronts.
The upper caste Nair community was concerned about the minority slant of the ruling front. The feeling that the minorities were pocketing benefits under the UDF regime had gained strength when the UDF conceded a fifth berth in the Oommen Chandy ministry to the IUML nominee.
Though the Congress had sought to check the damage by elevating Ramesh Chennithala, a darling of Nairs, to the second position in the Cabinet with Home portfolio, the results show that it did not assuage the feelings of the majority community.
Senior Congress leaders like A K Antony had warned the UDF against neglecting the majority community. The BJP leaders had highlighted Antony’s remarks during the campaign. They supported it by pointing out the dominance of the IUML and Kerala Congress which represents the Muslims and Christians respectively in the Oommen Chandy government.
Though the saffron party accused both the fronts of pursuing minority appeasement, it hurt the UDF most. The LDF played its cards deftly and kept both the majority and minority communities in good humour. It sought to rally the minorities and secular-minded Hindus behind it by playing up the dangers of BJP’s Hindutva agenda.
Additionally, the LDF tried to make inroads into the minorities, who account for about 46 percent of the population, by forging ties with parties and organisations representing the minorities and fielding prominent Muslims and Christian candidates in the minority belts.
This paid off well for the LDF in Malappuram district, where it won two additional seats this time. Three of the four seats the LDF got in the Muslim-dominated districts were won by Muslim candidates they fielded as independents.
Malappuram is perhaps the only district where LDF has made gains on its own strength. The BJP was not a factor in the district as its votes increased only marginally from 92,000 in 2011 to 1.7 lakh this time.
The votes that the UDF lost in the district are more than the votes gained by the BJP. While the BJP votes in Malappuram increased only by less than 78,000 votes in the last five years, the UDF lost votes heavily even in seats it has won. There was a steep fall of 1.37 lakhs votes in the victory margins of UDF in 12 constituencies in Malappuram.
The victory margin of UDF candidates in 12 seats it has won in Malappuram was 321,118 in the 2011 election. It came down to 183,599 votes in the present election. Similar fall in victory margins was also seen in six other seats that the IUML won outside Malappuram.
This indicates a sharp division in the Muslim votes, which were monopolised by IUML until recently. If the trend continues, it will be hard for the UDF to survive by banking on minorities as its major support base.
The huge loss the UDF suffered in the Christian pockets in Thrissur and Alappuzha also indicates erosion in its Christian support base. The steady decline in Christian population as a result of demographic changes adds to its woes.
Though the poll results do not support the LDF claim regarding anti-incumbency factor, it shows that the sleaze and scams that rocked the government and the rape and murder of a law student at Perumbavoor in the run up to the election had influenced the voters, especially women, to a big extent.
This is evident from the advances the LDF has made in constituencies where women voters outnumbered male voters. The LDF won 16 of the 26 seats where the women turnout was 5 to 13 percent more than the male turnout. Six of the 10 seats that the UDF won in this segment are in the IUML pocket boroughs in Malappuram.
Women voters had outnumbered male voters in as many as 78 constituencies. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has acknowledged the support of women to the LDF. He said that they had voted against UDF because of the feeling of insecurity they faced under the UDF regime.
The UDF had expected the women to vote for the phased prohibition policy introduced by its government in the middle of its term. However, the concern of security raised by the Perumbavoor murder over-weighed their minds.
Political analysts view the May 2016 poll results as an ominous sign of NDA emerging as a third alternative in Kerala, where power has been alternating between the two dominant fronts since 1977. They see a bright future for NDA if it softens it strident Hindutva stance and focus on a development agenda.
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