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Kerala records over 70% voter turnout: Sabarimala, Rahul's candidacy key factors behind high polling percentage in several constituencies

Kerala has been one of the few states in the country to consistently record 'above-national average' polling percentage in all general elections. The state recorded the highest turnouts of 79.2 percent and 79.3 percent in 1977 and 1989 elections respectively. The state gave all the 20 seats to the Congress-led front in 1977 and 17 in 1989.

Congress leaders claim that the current election will be a repeat of 1977. The initial polling trends in the Tuesday's election indicated that the turnout would come close to the previous best. By 7 pm, the voter turnout was 70.21 percent, while PTI quoted official sources at saying the overall polling was estimated to be 73.06 percent.

Past poll analyses show that Congress and its allies have benefitted from high polling percentage, which was mostly spurred by sensitive issues. While Emergency was the main issue that dominated the campaign in 1977, it was the Mandal Commission report and Shah Bano case that spurred a wave in favour of the Congress in 1989.

It appears that the Sabarimala women’s entry issue and Congress president Rahul Gandhi's candidature in Wayanad may have the same effect in the present election. These were the main campaign themes of all the three major fronts during the campaigning in most constituencies this time.

 Kerala records over 70% voter turnout: Sabarimala, Rahuls candidacy key factors behind high polling percentage in several constituencies

Voters queue up at a polling station in Kochi during the third phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls on Tuesday. PTI

A ‘Sabarimala rush’ for voting was discernible in most places, particularly in the sensitive south and central Kerala constituencies. In Pathanamthitta, the epicentre of the Sabarimala protest, long queues were seen from the early part of voting on Tuesday, suggesting that people were coming out to vote with a vengeance.

The Assembly segments of Aranmula, Adoor, Ranni, Kanjirappally and Poonjar, with strong undercurrents of the Sabarimala issue, witnessed brisk polling. In Aranmula and Ranni, the ruling front is facing trouble over Sabarimala as well as disaffection over 2018’s devastating floods.

Pathanamthitta is home to one of the toughest contests, with BJP candidate K Surendran seen throwing a big challenge to sitting MP and United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate Anto Antony and LDF candidate Veena George.

The powerful Nair Service Society (NSS), representing a prominent section of the majority Hindu community, had declared that it would adopt an equidistant stand in the election, giving a sense of comfort to both UDF and LDF.

But in an important television appearance on the polling day, NSS general secretary Sukumaran Nair declared that the polling will reflect the popular resentment against the policies of the government. Even his bete noire Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) general-secretary Vellappally Natesan admitted that Sabarimala will be a major issue in the hill shrine’s catchment areas.

The key question is who will be the beneficiary of this sentiment. NSS had expressed its disappointment with the Modi government’s failure to do anything to protect customs and traditions, but in reading between the lines of Sukumarn Nair’s statement, the undercurrents of the Sabarimala issue — which gathered further momentum towards the close of the campaigning period — are expected to benefit the BJP.

This could, perhaps, help the BJP upstage the rival UDF and LDF in some of the Sabarimala-sensitive seats such as Pathanamthitta and Thiruvananthapuram, where punters are putting their money on BJP’s K Surendran and Kummanam Rajasekharan respectively. Thrissur, where popular film actor Suresh Gopi is the NDA candidate, is also considered to be a good BJP prospect. The large turnout of women in the constituency seems to have surprised both the ruling and Opposition fronts.

An LDF camp follower said the spike in the voter turnout could mean either a rejection of BJP’s stand or support for it. If it is rejection, it will help the cause of the UDF, and if it is an approval, then the BJP will benefit. Either way, the LDF seems to be holding on to the surmise that, unlike in the previous elections, the larger turnout will go against it.

While the Sabarimala issue has enthused the Hindu faithful to come to the polling booths in large numbers, Rahul's candidature appears to have galvanised the minorities. The Rahul effect was most visible in the northern and central constituencies, where voters turned up in large numbers to cast their votes, braving inclement weather and the Maoist threat.

Much enthusiasm was seen among all sections of voters in Rahul’s constituency. Large turnout was recorded in all the seven Assembly segments of the constituency, spread across the three districts of Wayanad, Malappuram and Kozhikode.

Voters from Wayanad working in other states in the country and other far flung places in the state trooped in to vote for the prime ministerial candidate. The voters in the constituency were overwhelmed ever since the Congress announced his candidature. The campaign by the Congress chief and his sister Priyanka Gandhi added to the excitement of the people.

The voters in the constituency believed that they are voting for the next prime minister of the country, and they are not in a mood to miss the opportunity, said PK Basheer, the MLA from Ernad constituency in Wayanad.

“The voters in the constituency felt it is once in a lifetime opportunity for them. Rather than considering it a routine responsibility, they are enjoying voting for one of the most celebrated leaders in the country,” said Rajya Sabha MP PV Abdul Wahab.

Wayanad — which was constituted in the delimitation in 2009 — which registered 76.21 percent on Tuesday. It had recorded 73.25 percent and 74.60 percent polling in the 2009 and 2014 elections respectively.

The Congress leaders in the state claim that the vigour in Wayanad had reflected all over the state and it would help the UDF to sweep the state.

The CPM leaders, who had criticised Rahul's decision to contest the election from the state, on the other hand believe that the high voter turnout would work in its favour. Party's Kerala unit secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the politically-enlightened people in the state had viewed Rahul’s candidature politically incorrect and they have registered their disapproval by voting for the Left candidates.

However, the BJP has viewed the high voter turnout as a reflection of the people’s endorsement of their struggle to protect faith and belief. State BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai, who had termed the Sabarimala issue as a golden opportunity for the party to make inroads into Kerala, said that the election would throw up surprises to those who believed that the BJP will not open its account in Kerala.

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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 21:51:12 IST