The first phase of polling in the local body elections in Kerala began on Monday. Voting is being held in seven out of 14 districts today.
This time the local body elections have assumed much political significance after the BJP decided to have an electoral understanding with backward community outfits, particularly the Hindu Ezhava outfit Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), led by Vellappally Natesan. Natesan, whose community is traditionally the vote bank of CPI (M), joining hands with the BJP has caught the Congress and CPI(M) off guard.
The BJP armed with Natesan has suddenly changed the poll equations. If local body elections are generally an occasion to discus local developmental issues, the BJP’s presence with a prominent Hindu outfit had made Hindutva a major poll plank for the Congress and the CPI (M).
The CPI(M), in particular, with its star campaigner V S Achuthanandan, singled out Natesan as the main target of its attack. The last three weeks have seen more discussions about Natesan’s past and his alleged financial frauds, than other issues.
With the BJP giving the impression that the party is a serious stakeholder in this election, has brought prevailing national controversies such as the beef row, the Dadri lynching to to the forefront.
The outcome of the local body elections is crucial for the BJP as it would have an impact on the party’s strategy in the next assembly elections, early 2016. If the BJP manages to put up a good show that can be attributed to its alliance with SNDP, the party will try for a grand Hindu alliance in Kerala. If SNDP Yogam helps BJP to harvest seats in these local bod elections, the community outfit can go ahead with its plan to launch a political party. Otherwise, Natesan would be forced to rethink floating a political party.
Within the ruling Congress-led UDF, its performance in these elections will be crucial for the survival of K M Mani as Finance Minister. If the UDF fails to retain its existing lead in local bodies, Mani runs the risk of becoming a scapegoat. Also, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy would find his position weakened within the party, more so in the backdrop of his claim that the local body elections is a referendum on his government.
In short, this local body elections will provide hints about the future of a third front in Kerala.
The local body elections are taking place in Kerala in the twentieth year of decentralization of planning, called the `people’s planning’. However, this election has failed to take a constructive look at the past two decades of grassroots-level planning. In Kerala, which is urbanizing significantly, local governing bodies have a crucial role to play in tackling challenges such as waste management and the stray dog menace. Such issues have been ignored this time mainly due to the presence of the BJP with a new strategic ally.
This local body elections is more political in nature than ever before.