Soon after Supreme Court lifted the ban on the entry of menstruating women in the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala in south Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan opened the doors of the shrine to the prohibited section, hoping that a Hindu consolidation in favour of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will weaken his party’s traditional rival.
But the strategy has backfired, with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) walking away with 19 of the 20 seats in the Lok Sabha election. Vijayan’s calculation was based on the past trend showing the benefit of BJP gain to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by his party.
The trend played up to the biggest haul of Lok Sabha seats by the LDF in the 2004 elections. The front triumphed with 46.18 percent of the votes and 18 seats when the BJP secured its highest vote share of 12.11 percent in that election. The UDF then got only 38.46 percent of the votes and a single seat. The remaining one went to a BJP-backed Kerala Congress faction led by PC Thomas.
This election has bucked the trend with the all-time high polling percentage of nearly 16 gained by the saffron party, forcing the LDF to be content with 35.1 percent votes and just one seat, Alappuzha. This marks a drop of 6.88 percent votes for the LDF compared to 2014 when it secured 41.98 percent. This is more than the increase of 4.74 percent the BJP has got in its votes this time.
Though this increase in its votes has not helped the BJP in winning any seat, the party considers the gain as an indication of its chance to walk into the space occupied by the Left parties, like in West Bengal and Tripura. Will this lead to the fall of the lone Left citadel in the country is the question uppermost in the minds of the political pundits.
Senior leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the LDF, strongly rule out any such possibility in the state. Party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the poll debacle that the coalition has suffered now is a temporary setback that they can overcome in the coming years.
It doesn’t look easy as the Left had to fight only one front in the past. The entry of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP as a third front in the electoral scene in the state has changed the electoral landscape in the state. The growth of the BJP had not affected the Left in the past as their backward caste vote base had remained intact.
However, the Sabarimala issue has made a crack in its unchallenged vote bank. The victory of the UDF candidates with huge margins in most of the 19 seats it has won shows a shift of a sizeable number of Left supporters to the Opposition camp. The lead of the UDF was above 1 lakh in as many as eight seats and close to 1 lakh in four other seats. This is surprising in a state like Kerala, where elections are often decided on very thin margins.
The blow to the LDF this time is so severe that it has not only lost all its traditional bastions such as Alathur, Palakkad, Kannur, Kasargod, Vadakara and Attingal but also majority in 75 of the 91 Assembly segments it had won in the 2016 Assembly elections. The UDF, on the other hand, has gained sizeable majority in 123 Assembly segments.
The polling trend, however, does not offer any cheer to the BJP since it could get majority in only one Assembly segment. This is Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram district, the only seat the party has won in the Assembly. The only consolation for the party is a runner-up position it has got in Thiruvananthapuram, which the BJP hoped to win easily.
Political analysts think the BJP’s hope of stepping into the space of the Left in Kerala is far-fetched since the state has a sizeable minority population which is still not ready to accept the Hindutva politics of the saffron brigade. It is also not acceptable even to a major section of Hindus, whose political ethos has been traditionally secular.
Even if NDA manages to win the support of majority of the Hindu votes, it may not help the alliance in winning much seats since the Hindu population is only 57 percent in the state. Of this, Ezhavas, who constitute about 24 percent of the Hindu population, is the backbone of the Communists. The NDA has not been able to wean away the hardcore Left supporters, even after forging an alliance with the community’s political arm, the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS).
The Nair Service Society (NSS), a community organisation of the upper caste Nairs who form 16 percent of the Hindu population, has been turning their back to the BJP, saying they don’t want to be identified as a Sangh Parivar outfit. If the NSS, which shared platform with the Sangh Parivar in opposing the entry of menstruating women in Sabarimala, had supported the BJP, it would have won at least three seats and taken its vote share to over 20 percent.
The Nair community, which was critical of the chief minister’s hasty decision to implement the Supreme Court verdict in Sabarimala, seems to have opted for the UDF which opposed the LDF stand without shedding blood. The NSS was sceptical about the BJP’s stand on Sabarimala since party chief PS Sreedharan Pillai had termed the Supreme Court verdict a golden opportunity for his party to increase its foothold in the state.
The minorities, who constitute about 43 percent of the population, perceived this as a threat to them and rallied behind the UDF in this election. The candidature of Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad further helped the UDF in consolidating the minority votes in its favour.
The BJP has realised that it cannot fulfill its electoral ambitions in Kerala without the support of the minorities. The party, which has alienated the Muslims with its strident anti-Muslim stand at the national level, has been making concerted efforts to win over the Christians, who form about 18 percent of the population.
Though BJP has inducted many prominent Christians from the state in the NDA and rewarded them with positions in the government and the party organisation, the community is still not ready to come to terms with the party’s ideological positions.
Political analysts, therefore, do not believe that the BJP's task in Kerala will be as easy as in West Bengal and Tripura. Joseph C Mathew, a Left-leaning analyst, said none will be able to write off the Left in the state. He said that the setback they have suffered in this election is due to its follies and arrogant approach of its leaders towards the people.
He believes that the LDF will be able to stop the BJP advance if they rectify their mistakes and adopt a more people-friendly approach.
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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 23:20:48 IST