Pre-polls to Polls: The undercurrents of Kerala politics going against the incumbent LDF
Before election campaigning in Kerala began, pre-poll surveys noted that the incumbent LDF would retain power in the state; possibly pushing the Congress-led UDF behind. These claims were aided by the fact that there was considerable infighting in Congress before and during the candidate selection. However, the UDF was not only able to deal with their internal issues but made sure that they pushed past the problems. LDF had similar problems as well, with area committees going against state leadership over candidate selection. At first, the latter didn’t agree with the area committee demands but as tensions grew and conflicts increased, the candidates were changed.
The UDF showed immense unity in their campaigns, as the front worked together to support the final list of candidates. One such example is Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, where the NDA, who holds a strong influence in the constituency, described the LDF as their opponent and didn’t consider UDF. After K Muraleedharan stepped in as the Nemom Congress candidate, he mobilised large groups in his support and turned it into a three-way fight. Moreover, the UDF has to contest the large financial backing enjoyed by LDF and NDA.
With the election campaigns removing focus from overall state progress to individual constituencies, certain claims made by left MLAs began to appear as misleading and false. This bolstered the support for UDF and they gained from the recent allegations against the LDF government concerning controversial deals with corporate entities as well as central agencies’ investigation into elements close to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office.
While the left alliance hoped for an early lead thanks to their victory margin in the local polls did not plan for the latter part of the Assembly election campaigning. Despite early campaigning in the state, with the arrival of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, the UDF bolstered their bases pushing the incumbent left on the back foot.
Apart from the above mentioned, many undercurrents generally favoured the Congress-led UDF rather than the incumbent left in the past three months. The most important of them was the socio-religious elements in the state. The LDF government’s illegal deal with EMCC India allowing deep-sea fishing resulted in the coastal communities and Latin Catholic faction moving towards UDF. The latter already published an explainer in their newsletter on why the people shouldn’t vote for the LDF and NDA. Moreover, a majority of Christian voters have come back to the UDF since the local body polls, during which the Kerala Congress (M) faction led by Jose K Mani went to the LDF. Following the conflicts in the LDF over the seat-sharing debacles concerning Pala, a good number of Christian vote share returned to UDF, according to political experts.
In the case of Muslim voters, it has generally been a stronghold for the UDF thanks to their alliance with Indian Union Muslim League. The strength is maintained in Malabar with the help of IUML and the return of PK Kunhalikutty to state politics has influenced the Muslim voter share in central Travancore and southern Kerala. Moreover, the pre-poll surveys that gave a lead to LDF in South Kerala did not take into account the shift of Muslim votes to UDF. More often than not, the LDF government has been accused of being Islamophobic and it has changed the voting pattern as well.
Some political experts believe that the LDF government’s attempts to woo upper caste Hindu votes will not work despite the state government introducing reservation for economically weaker sections. This might be because offers remain on paper and not in action. On the other hand, the minority vote share enjoyed by the left is in peril, as they seem to be moving to the UDF. Pinarayi's extreme police actions, hunting down Muslim youngsters using UAPA, Maoist killings, and other such decisions have caused this migration. The dissenting votes might also include middle-class voters who are unhappy with rising electricity, water rates. These people were also affected during the floods and pandemic but weren’t given any benefits, which the state used to woo voters.
Reportedly, a few ministers who were involved in controversial deals — Fisheries Minister Mercykutty Amma being one such — could face defeat, and the sitting seats of 30 left MLAs who didn’t get a seat this time might go over to UDF. Adding to this, Pinarayi Vijayan’s efforts to accuse the Congress of tying with the BJP failed with RSS ideologue Balashankar alleging LDF’s deal with BJP to allow the latter to win Konni, while the saffron party will help CPM win other seats.
Introspecting the Captain Narrative
While Pinarayi Vijayan is called ‘captain’ on social media, he is not exactly the captain that we needed. His greatest failure comes from his role as Home Minister, especially failing to provide justice to many in the state. From almost a dozen questionable encounter killing of Maoists, the Pinarayi police have also failed to deliver justice to the people — prominent of those being the Periya double murder and Walayar girls’ rape; in both cases, the accused are reportedly left activists. The Walayar deaths have also been compared to the Hathras rape case, and people have drawn parallels between Pinarayi Vijayan and UP CM Yogi Adityanath.
Moreover, the CM has also created one of the biggest debt traps in the state and has not found any revenue generation sources making it very difficult for whoever gets into power next. Apart from the allegations of stealing from the flood funds, the state government has also spent considerable taxpayers’ money to bring in consulting firms. Even though the CM prides on leading the state through two floods, recent reports, as well as findings of ecologist Gadgil, indicated that the floods were man-made. The Election Commission has admitted to allegations of double votes in the state, and the opposition pegs it at more than four lakh.
However, the most important issue here is the central agencies’ investigation of members close to the Chief Minister’s office in gold and dollar smuggling. On more than once occasions, the prime accused have pointed at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s closest associates — former Principal Secretary M Sivasankar and Addl Private Secretary Raveendran.
Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, and it should apply to the Chief Minister as well. The CM should at least be able to explain why these allegations exist and why they aren’t true. However, the Kerala CM has dismissed the allegations claiming that it was intended to topple the left government but not a single reason as to why they aren’t true.
On the other hand, Ramesh Chennithala performed admirably his functions as the Opposition Leader. He followed through his allegations with evidence and he brought out many of the problems mentioned here. Thanks to his efforts, the state government backed away from these deals — the most important of them being the cancellation of the EMCC deals allowing deep-sea fishing.
Some political experts also opine that Oommen Chandy was a better Chief Minister than Pinarayi Vijayan, considering how the former had been conservative with acquiring debt. The growth rate was steady, welfare schemes were ongoing, and Chandy didn’t ask the media to get out or claimed to be some form of a physical wall. He was always accessible and transparent.
While the left was confident in the initial stages of the elections, they are not doing well as of now. This is evident from the lowly tactics the LDF candidates are resorting to in many locations as well as accusing the UDF of boosting communalism and allying with the BJP. Yet, they are unable to explain away similar allegations against them. This as well as several issues combined create a domino effect that will lead to the UDF winning with a close majority.