Four Big Takeaways from Kerala Civic Poll Results

Congress needs to introspect a lot after its abysmal performance in recent Kerala Civic Polls, writes Kay Benedict.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Kerala civic poll results brought cheers for the CPI(M). (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VSAchuthananthan/photos/pb.101049959974687.-2207520000.1446905368./893671897379152/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)

Kerala civic bodies election results’ declared on Saturday have thrown up some interesting angularities, which can have a bearing on the political scene unfolding at the national level.

The performance of Congress-led United Democratic Front has been poor, while the CPM-led Left Democratic Front did quite well, disproving analysts who theorised that a resurgent BJP will usurp the Marxist space in Kerala as was the case in some constituencies in West Bengal.

Good News For BJP

The results also underscore the possibility that after over five decades of wait, the BJP will be able to open its account in the next year’s assembly election in the state. The results were cheering for the CPI(M) as well as the BJP, but a dampener for the Congress.

That the saffron party fared reasonably well in “urban” pockets across the state – compared to its previous performance – buttresses the fact that the ongoing “intolerance” debate has not overtly sullied the image of the saffron party in the state.

What has stunned the observers is the fact that the BJP, which had just six seats in the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation earlier, emerged as the second largest party, winning 34 out of 100 seats, relegating the Congress to the third position with 21 seats. The CPM became the single largest party with 44 seats.

 Congress-led United Democratic Front fairs poorly in Kerala Civic Polls. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/udf2011/photos/pb.135503219853044.-2207520000.1446905861./136208179782548/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)
Congress-led United Democratic Front fairs poorly in Kerala Civic Polls. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

Wake-Up Call for Congress

In Kozhikode corporation, where the BJP never won a seat, it secured seven and in Thrissur, it improved the tally from one to six. The party bagged 16 seats gram panchayats from zero, while the LDF topped with 539 seats and the UDF came second with 366.

The fact that BJP has emerged as the principal Opposition party in Thiruvananthapuram corporation, pushing the Congress to the third position, is a wake-up call for Shashi Tharoor, sitting Lok Sabha MP from this constituency. Last year, Tharoor had won the seat defeating his nearest rival, 86-year-old O Rajagopal of the BJP, who lost by 15,470 votes. Being the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram is prestigious and a defeat here even in the municipal corporation should be an eye opener for the Grand Old Party.

Snapshot

Political Implications of Kerala Civic Polls

  • 1. BJP emerges second largest party in Thiruvananthapuram (state capital) Municipal Corporation; a wake up call for Shashi Tharoor, sitting Lok Sabha MP from the city
  • 2. CPM outperforms the Congress; unlike in West Bengal, BJP apparently failed to usurp the Left base
  • 3. If Congress continues to grow weaker, the minorities – Muslims and Christians – could resort to tactical voting to defeat BJP
  • 4. Congress allies in the state – RSP and Janata Dal could switch over to the CPM led LDF before the next assembly polls

The ‘Ezhava’ Factor

The BJP, which has been struggling to open its account in the Kerala assembly, had entered into a tacit understanding with SNDP (Shree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam), an organisation formed originally to propagate and promote the moral teaching of Shree Narayana Guru, a 19th century (born in 1856) Ezhava (backward caste Hindu) sage, who had rebelled against the oppressive caste system perpetuated by the upper castes in the state.

The Civic Poll results indicate that the BJP-SNDP understanding has not dented the CPM base. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/bjpkeralam/photos/pb.143249105696298.-2207520000.1446906401./1000566166631250/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)
The Civic Poll results indicate that the BJP-SNDP understanding has not dented the CPM base. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

Now, the SNDP representing the numerically strong Ezhavas (OBCs), is controlled by Vellapally Natesan, a liquor contractor turned community leader with political ambitions. The Ezhavas have been the mainstay of the CPI(M) and Natesan’s bid to strike a deal with the BJP had unnerved the Marxists and many had predicted that if the Ezhavas switched loyalty to the BJP, the CPM would be thrown out of power in Kerala in due course, like in West Bengal.

However, the civic poll results indicate that the BJP-SNDP understanding has not dented the CPI(M) base. That means that either the Ezhavas have not en bloc deserted the comrades or the minorities (the dominant Muslims and Christians) resorted to “tactical voting”, a phenomenon so far witnessed in the Hindi belt. That is to say, the minorities, fearing BJP ascendancy, may have chosen the muscular Marxists over the Congress, the latter being seen as spongy and less aggressive in fighting the Sangh Parivar on the streets.

Image of the Congress-led government in Kerala has taken a hit due to allegations of corruption against its Finance Minister, KM Mani. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/udf2011/photos/pb.135503219853044.-2207520000.1446905861./136208183115881/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)
Image of the Congress-led government in Kerala has taken a hit due to allegations of corruption against its Finance Minister, KM Mani. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

Tough Days Ahead for Congress

If this trend persists, the BJP may bag a few seats in the assembly election next year at the cost of Congress, while a buoyed CPI(M) could form the government or emerge as the single largest party. Much will depend on how the Congress leadership plays its cards.

So far, the party honchos have not betrayed any signs of a killer instinct. The government’s image has taken a beating recently after the finance minister K M Mani, head of ally, Kerala Congress (M), was accused of taking a bribe from bar owners, while the Congress itself is sucked into intense and interminable factional feuds.

If the Grand Old Party fails to get its act together, an immediate fallout would be that, at least two of its allies – the Kerala unit of Janata Dal led by former union minister MP Veerandhra Kumar and the RSP, an erstwhile CPM ally - could desert the UDF and join hands with the LDF. Even the church, in a tactical shift, could throw its weight around the atheist Marxists to fight the bigger evil – “communal and fascist forces”. In politics, only the winners matter.

(The writer is a political commentator)

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