Higher turnout in the Lok Sabha election in Kerala has always benefitted the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Whether this phenomenon will be repeated this year, especially after Kerala recorded its third highest polling percentage of 77.68 percent, is a topic of hot debate in the political circles in the state post-election.
The Congress-led front had swept the state in 1977 and 1989 when Kerala had recorded the previous highest turnouts. That was when the grand old party had only one enemy to fight-the Left front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The picture is entirely different now with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which entered the poll scene with a token presence in 1984, emerging as a third biggest force. Political observers feel that the past phenomenon may not be applicable any more.
J Prabhash, former pro-vice-chancellor of Kerala University, said that the strong three-cornered contests forced by the saffron party in many constituencies with the sensitive Sabarimala women's entry issue can make previous trends irrelevant.
Strong triangular contests were expected in five constituencies. The constituencies where the BJP has thrown up a huge challenge to the two dominant fronts led by the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur, Kasargod and Palakkad.
Pathanamthitta, a Congress stronghold, emerged top in the list of BJP after Supreme Court lifted the ban on menstruating women from entering the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, which is located in the district, in its historic judgment on 28 September.
The saffron party saw the Left Democratic Front government’s attempt to implement the verdict as a golden opportunity to increase its footprint in Kerala and apparently sought to take maximum mileage from it by leading an aggressive campaign against the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 in the hill shrine. It reflected in the turnout that the constituency recorded — a highest turnout of 74.19 percent. If the previous phenomenon repeats itself, Congress candidate Anto Antony, who is aiming for a hat-trick, should win the seat hands down.
However, a 12.3 percent increase in the polling percentage in Poonjar, the Assembly segment represented by Janapaksham leader P C George, who switched sides to BJP following the Sabarimala row, and a sharp increase in the turnout of female voters has made the Congress camp jittery.
The number of women who cast their vote this time is 5,31,826 as against 4,90,934 men who voted. BJP candidate K Surendran believes that the reason for the increase in the number of women votes this time (40,352) is the Sabarimala issue. It was women in Pathanamthitta who came out into the street in large numbers against the state government’s bid to implement the apex court verdict. Surendran, who is the hero of the protests, feels that the women have now come out to express their disagreement over the LDF's stand on the issue through ballots. He is confident that this will ensure his victory and fulfil his party’s unfulfilled hope of opening their account in Kerala.
Another massive upsurge of women in Thrissur, where they outnumbered their male counterparts by 62,954 votes, has given a boost the hope of BJP candidate Suresh Gopi. The BJP camp believes that the Sabarimala issue, as well as the candidate’s wider appeal as a popular actor, will help him romp home easily. The constituency also recorded the highest turnout of 77.86 percent polling.
However, the saffron camp is a bit worried over the highest turnout of 73.45 percent in Thiruvananthapuram on which they pinned much hope. What has the BJP upset is the sharp increase in the polling percentage in Neyyattinkara, Parasala and Kovalam, the coastal segments that gave a majority to Congress nominee Shashi Tharoor in the 2014 election and a moderate increase in the city segments that gave their candidate O Rajagopal majority.
Tharoor, who is fighting the election for a third term in the Lower House, believes this as a clear sign of the absence of any saffron wave in favour of Kummanam Rajashekharan, who was forced by the BJP to resign as Mizoram Governor and contest the election, to give the party a seat from Kerala.
The diplomat-turned-politician, who won the last election by a narrow margin of 15470 votes, has expressed the hope that he will win this time with an increased margin. The personal intelligence agency of Tharoor has estimated his majority at 60,000 this time. The Tharoor camp is confident because the agency’s last prediction that he will win by over 15,000 votes had come correct.
A three percent increase in the polling percentage in the Kasargod and Manjeswaram segments of the Kasargod constituency, where the BJP came close to victory in the last Assembly polls, has also raised hopes for the saffron camp. The LDF, that holds the seat, is confident to retain the seat as there was only a slight increase of 2.16 in the overall polling percentage in the constituency, which borders Karnataka.
The LDF also hopes that lack of any substantial increase in the polling percentage in Palakkad would favour them. The increase in polling percentage in the constituency was below the state average of 3.74 percent.
Strong triangular contests were witnessed in most of these five constituencies. The contest in the remaining seats is a straight bight between the two traditional rivals. However, any substantial increase in BJP votes in these constituencies can tilt the balance either way.
The increase in the polling percentage in these constituencies may be advantageous to the Congress and its allies. The party hopes easy victory in Kannur, Vadakara, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Ponnani, Malappuram, Alathur, Chalakkudy, Ernakulam, Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Kollam, Mavelikkara and Attingal.
However, the fight in Kannur, Alathur and Attingal, which are strongholds of the LDF, can be a close one. The increase in polling percentage in Kannur was a meagre 1.99 percent, whereas it was six and four percent in Attingal and Alathur respectively.
Congress leaders see the higher turnout as an indication of a political consolidation against the governments in the state and at the Centre. Kozhikode district Congress chief T Siddique said that the politically enlightened people of Kerala came out in strong numbers to cast their votes with a strong determination to give Rahul Gandhi an opportunity to lead the country.
He claimed that the Congress and its allies will win all the 20 seats. Other senior leaders like AK Antony, Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala and Mullappally Ramachandran have also shared the same hope.
The ruling LDF also sees the higher turnout as consolidation in its favour. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that heads the LDF, sees this as a sign of the repeat of 2004, when the swept the state by winning 18 out of 20 seats.
For an increase in the polling percentage, the BJP leaders have given credit to the Sabarimala issue and the good governance of the NDA government at the Centre. They believe that the message implicit in the increased turnout this time is a contribution from Kerala to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a second term.
Claims and counterclaims are rife in the post-poll debates. The people have to wait for a month to know whose claim will come true. Kerala is anxiously waiting for the counting of votes on 23 May.
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Updated Date: Apr 24, 2019 15:49:24 IST