AFTER a long and high-pitched election campaign in Kerala, 25 million voters are now set to decide the fate of three major stakeholders in the state.
While traditional political rivals — the Congress-led UDF and the CPI(M)-led LDF — have taken turns to rule the state for decades now, the sudden intrusion from the BJP, which threatens to play spoiler, has made the polls in Kerala a crucial face-off.
In at least two dozen constituencies, the BJP has drawn the LDF and the UDF into triangular contests.
While the ruling Congress-led UDF is hoping to beat anti-incumbency on the plank of development and welfare measures of its government, the CPI (M)-led LDF is desperately looking to make a comeback after a string of electoral debacles. The BJP, still recovering from the defeat in Bihar and Delhi, hopes to open its account in the southern state.
Despite the bitter campaign though, there was no dominant political theme. The state’s liquor policy, corruption charges against the government, the murder of a Dalit girl and the Prime Minister’s Somalia remark all triggered a war of words between rival parties but no issue managed to stick on for long. Even agrarian and civic issues were put on the back burner, and verbal spats on social media were common. As voting day arrives, no party seems to have an edge.
The outcome of the polls is crucial to the survival of the CPI (M), both in the state and at the national level. Since the Assembly elections in 2006, the electoral prospects of the CPI (M) have hit a rough patch. The party lost the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, the Assembly elections in 2011 and could not register a comeback in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the state either.
Its years out of power have also cost the CPI (M) crucial allies. A large proportion of the Hindus in the state, which formed a big part of its vote bank, seem to be tilting towards the BJP since it assumed office at the Centre.
The Congress-led UDF has Muslims, Christians and other minorities as its main vote base. While Christian votes remain largely with the UDF, both the CPI (M) and Congress have been vying for Muslim voters, by accusing each other of having a secret deal with the BJP.
Although Hindus constitute 54 per cent of the state’s population, the BJP has failed to send a single legislator to the state Assembly. But since the 2014 general election victory, the party’s prospects in the state have been improving. The alliance with the recently formed Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) which represents the Ezhava community, the single largest Hindu segment in Kerala, has helped the BJP further.
A large chunk of Ezhavas had been voting for the CPI(M) till now, but with the BJP in the contest, the equations could change. If the BDJS helps the BJP gain in the election, it would be the beginning of new caste politics in state.