In Kerala's Palakkad constituency, greeting media gaze on 2 May was the unusual sight of Left Democratic Front (LDF) workers of candidate CP Promod’s camp congratulating United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate, Congress’ Shafi Parambil. Reason, Parambil was leading India’s former Metroman E Sreedharan in the constituency by 3,925 votes, as per Election Commission of India’s 9 pm tallies.
The gesture reflected the mood in the state where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost its only seat in the Kerala Assembly - Thiruvananthapuram’s Nemom constituency. V Shivankutty of CPI(M) wrested the seat from BJP’s lone incumbent MLA O Rajagopal. At 9 pm, Shivankutty who was pitted against BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan this election, was leading by 3,596 votes . Indian National Congress’ K Muraleedharan came in third in the constituency.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the BJP, which had contested 20 seats was found to be leading in one seat—Tirunelveli where Nainar Nagenthran was leading ahead of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s ALS Laxmanan by 13,394 votes at 9 pm. However, late into the night, the party ended up winning three seats even though its vote share remained low.
Meaning, election results to the Kerala and Tamil Nadu assemblies in 2021 have been a dampener for the BJP in southern India. In Kerala, the BJP’s vote share fell from 16 percent in 2016 to 11.51 percent in 2021.
In Tamil Nadu the party’s vote share dipped from an already abysmal 3.57 percent to 2.62 percent.
Kerala U-Turn with Congress Aid
From 2011 to 2016 the BJP’s vote share in Kerala had increased from 6.3 per cent to 16 per cent. “It was the Congress’ votes which had split to boost the BJP’s performance in 2016. This changed in 2021, with CPI(M) bagging these votes as part of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) wave,” said KP Sethunath, a senior journalist from Kerala.
In fact, in Nemom, participation of the Congress in the contest cemented CPI(M)’s victory. The BJP would have won more votes, but K Muraleedharan of the Congress split the BJP's votes. Meanwhile, CPI(M)’s votes remained intact, thereby making it tough for the BJP to win the seat.
In Palakkad where the BJP had fielded its star candidate, E Sreedharan, once again the Congress’ strong presence checked the BJP's performance.
“If Congress had not given a tough fight, BJP would have won in at least five seats in Kerala,” a senior Congress leader told The Quint.
In Thrissur, where actor-turned-politician Suresh Gopi fought hard, CPI(M)’s P Balachandran, led with over 3,432 seats at 9 pm. However, Padmaja Venugopal of the Congress who bagged 41,998 seats in third position, has killed Gopi’s chances of narrowing the margin.
“Even though there is a Left wave in the state, Congress fought tooth and nail in some constituencies. It helped CPI(M) retain and win some seats against the BJP,” a senior leader of the Congress who did not want to be identified, said.
Tamil Nadu Debacle
While a popular twitter trend from Tamil Nadu has been #GoBackModi, the election results show that a strong anti-BJP sentiment has been raging in the state.
Even though AIADMK, BJP’s alliance partner performed better than projections of the exit polls, bagging 33.6 per cent of the vote share in the state, the latter is believed to have slimmed the former’s chances at re-election.
“DMK’s campaign centered around an unholy alliance between the BJP and the AIADMK, and Tamil Nadu voted against the BJP. In a seat like Tirunelveli where the BJP seems to be doing well also, DMK has performed relatively better than expected,” said Anandi Shanmughasundaram, a political analyst based in Chennai.
As of 9 pm, according to Election Commission of India, in Tirunelveli DMK’s candidate ALS Laxmanan was trailing behind BJP’s Nagenthran by 14,948 votes.
However, in seats such as Dharapuram, Harbour and Udagamandalam, where the BJP had captured an early lead, DMK candidates had managed to catch up by 9 pm.
In Dharapuram L Murugan of BJP was trailing behind N Kayavizhi of DMK by just 668 votes. In Harbour, BJP’s candidate Vinoj P Selvam was trailing behind DMK’s PK Sekarbabu by 27,102 votes. In Udagamandalam, BJP’s M Bhojarajan was trailing behind INC’s R Ganesh by 4,598 votes. BJP’s candidate Vanathi Srinivasan was trailing behind Makkal Needhi Maiyam’s Kamal Hassan by a narrow 176 votes in Coimbatore.
“The party was expecting to win at least 10 seats. The results have dampened the mood but the Tamil Nadu project is not over for the BJP. We will be part of a strong opposition,” a senior Tamil Nadu BJP leader told The Quint.
Long Term Project South
Meanwhile, political analysts told The Quint, that BJP’s narrow margins in some seats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala indicate the growing strength of the party in its strongholds. “Going by the seat share we can no longer say that BJP is an insignificant player in the south. In constituencies where they have made inroads their performance is strong. All incumbent party leaders should be wary of the BJP’s presence in their constituencies,” said Shanmughasudaram.
For the national leadership of the BJP, south Indian states including Tamil Nadu and Kerala are no longer alien because the party has been making its ground presence felt in these states.
“Ten years ago no one even discussed the BJP in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Now they are not just discussing but also voting for the party. We consider this a huge change and hope we will continue to make inroads in the future,” the senior BJP leader said.
How long will that strategy take to fructify? “We have not given ourselves a timeframe. But in the next Assembly elections, we would renew our strategy and come back to win the people’s hearts,” the leader said.
Meanwhile, in Puducherry the BJP alliance with NR-Congress is expected to come to power in the Union Territory. The Congress-DMK alliance was in power here in the previous term.