Kerala Assembly polls: Close contest on the cards; BJP may become kingmaker
While the Kerala CM is hopeful for another UDF term, political observers do not rule out the possibility of BJP emerging kingmaker
A tiny shift of 0.89 percent of the votes in the last Assembly polls helped the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to raise its seats in the 140-member House from 40 in 2006 to 72 in 2011.
The position will be reversed if there is even a 0.25 percent swing in favour of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the 16 May polls. Such small swings have been bringing the two fronts to power in the state, every alternate five years since 1977.
However, the situation has changed in 2016 with the third player becoming stronger. The election outcome this time will largely depend on the performance of the third player in the fray.
The 2011 results showed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had taken away 1.27 percent of the LDF votes. The saffron party had increased its vote share from 4.67 percent in 2006 to 6.03 percent in 2011.
The BJP’s votes had hovered around 5 percent since 1991, when it contested elections mostly alone. But with BJP cobbling together a third front, and its national unit pumping a huge sum of money into the state this time, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-led by the party is expected to improve its vote share substantially.
The party’s vote share had risen to 10.63 percent in the last Lok Sabha polls in 2014, even without allies and to 14 percent in the local body elections in November 2015, when it fought the election with the help of allies.
If the BJP is able to maintain even the Lok Sabha election vote share, it will make a huge impact on the poll outcome. However, most of the pre-poll surveys have predicted 14 to 16 percent votes for the BJP and two to five seats.
The party cannot mobilise this many votes without eating into the votes of the two rival fronts, since the percentage of unattached votes in Kerala is around 15. Political analysts divide the electorate in Kerala into four segments: UDF supporters, LDF supporters, BJP supporters and voters unattached to any party.
The UDF and the LDF hold sway over 40 percent votes each. This means that 40 per cent of the voters never shift their political affiliation in any election. The vote share of the two has never gone down below 40 percent even when they have lost the elections to the Assembly.
The LDF got 43.7 percent vote share in 2001, even when the UDF came to power then with the highest number of 100 seats. Similarly the UDF got 42.98 percent votes in the next election in 2006, even when the LDF captured power with 99 seats.
The two had maintained the traditional vote share in the Lok Sabha elections as well. However, the UDF suffered the biggest erosion in its vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, in which the BJP increased its votes to 10.63 from 6.32 percent in 2009.
Though UDF won 12 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2104, its vote share came down from 47.82 percent in 2009 to 42 percent. This shows the BJP took away 5.82 percent of its votes. The LDF, on the other hand, conceded only 0.31 percent votes to the BJP.
The local body elections, in which the BJP scored its highest vote share of 14.81 percent, also show that the BJP had eaten into the UDF votes in a big way. While the UDF vote share came down from 46.09 percent in 2010 to 36.93 in 2015, the LDF share went up from 42.3 percent to 45.1 percent.
The BJP’s vote share in 2010 was a mere 6.26 percent. This shows that the additional 8.55 percent votes that the BJP gathered in the local body polls, came entirely from the UDF. The UDF also conceded about 1 percent votes to the LDF.
The LDF got power mostly when the BJP increased its vote share. The BJP vote share had gone up by 3.75 percent in the 1987 Assembly election in which the LDF came to power with 79 seats. In 1996, when the LDF got power again, the BJP vote share had gone up by one percent.
However, the trend started changing in the last one decade. The LDF came to power in 2006, despite a decline in the BJP votes by 0.25 percent. The BJP gain in the 2011 polls benefited the UDF instead of the LDF. However, the variation on both occasions was very marginal.
If the last Lok Sabha and local body election trend is any indication, the LDF should win the 16 May election hands down. The historical pattern of Kerala throwing out incumbent government also favours the opposition front.
However, political observers feel that the electoral arithmetic can go wrong this titme as the saffron party’s alliance with Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a political outfit of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) that represents the numerically strong Hindu Ezhava community, can change political equations.
This is mainly because Ezhavas, whom the BDJS courts, form the main chunk of the Communists cadre base in the state. Political analyst NN Pearson feels that the BDJS had not hurt the LDF in the local body elections because the party was then in its infancy.
He feels that the Ezhavas, who have been traditionally voting for the CPM, may rally behind the BDJS-BJP combine, with the party making concerted efforts to wean them with the help of the large network of SNDP and its micro-finance units.
“Flight of Ezhavas from the communist parties to the BJP had started even before the SNDP floated its political outfit. Now with the party firmly in place, there is no reason for ordinary Ezhavas to continue their affiliation with the Communist parties any more,” says Pearson.
He feels that the Communist movement may become irrelevant in Kerala if the Ezhavas desert the CPM and the CPI, as they have not been able to make any major inroads into the 45 percent minorities, who traditionally backed the UDF.
However, political observers like Jacob George rules out immediate possibility of this. He said that it would not be easy for those who have been supporting the party since its inception to change their affiliation. He said this was the reason why the BDJS electoral understanding with the BJP had not affected the LDF.
According to Jacob, only the creamy layer among the Ezhava community, who supported the UDF traditionally, had switched sides. This explains the major erosion in the UDF vote share in the local body elections.
In fact, senior CPM leaders believe that the BDJS will not take root in the state. They cite the fate of Socialist Republican Party (SRP), a political outfit floated by the SNDP in the 70s, to support their argument. Though the party had managed to forge an alliance with the UDF, it failed to gain traction. This forced the SNDP to wound up the party two decades later.
Similarly, the Nair Service Society (NSS), the socio-cultural organisation of the upper caste Nairs, was also forced to end their political experiment by disbanding the National Democratic Part (NDP). Senior CPM leader MV Govindan Master views the failure of the experiments as a clear indication that Hindutva politics will not work in Kerala.
Party politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan says that the BJP will not be able to fulfil its dream of opening account in the State Assembly. He claimed that the LDF will come to power with more than 100 seats this time.
Though the Congress has not dared to make any such claims, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that he was confident that the UDF will get another term. His confidence stems from absence of any anti-incumbency signs in the election front.
Moreover, some of the pre-poll surveys have found Chandy as the most popular, despite the sleaze and corruption scams battled by him and many of his cabinet colleagues. The confusion created by the CPM over its chief ministerial candidate by fielding politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan and opposition leader VS Achuthanandan also seems to have helped Chandy.
The chief minister said he was hopeful that the people will give UDF another chance as they want development. He said they were not expecting LDF to meet their aspirations since it has always opposed all major development initiatives.
Despite the high voltage campaign by all the three political combinations, no wave in favour of anybody is perceptible in this election. This indicates a neck and neck race. Political observers also do not rule out the possibility of BJP emerging as a kingmaker in the event of a punctured verdict.
Such a scenario could plunge the state into political uncertainty since both the fronts still consider BJP untouchable. The chief minister has already made it clear that the UDF will not seek power with the help of the BJP.
The CPM does not foresee any such possibility. The party believes that there are strong under currents in its favour in this election. One has to wait till 19 May to find how this and the other factors work in the election.
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