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Monday, May 17, 2021

Kerala: LDF win could trigger change in all parties

How was electoral history rewritten in Kerala, and what are the key takeaways from Sunday's results?

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: May 3, 2021 9:02:25 am
Pinarayi Vijayan

The victory of the LDF marks the first time since the 1980s that an incumbent political combination has returned to power in Kerala. In doing so, the LDF has surpassed its earlier tally of 91 in the 140-member Assembly. How was electoral history rewritten in Kerala, and what are the key takeaways from Sunday’s results?

Vijayan’s leadership

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s strong and decisive leadership during the crises — floods and pandemic — that battered the state during the past few years contrasted sharply with the Congress-led UDF regime. Minorities, especially Muslims, saw Vijayan and the LDF as a bulwark against the emergence of the BJP in the state. The Chief Minister’s leadership, appreciated especially by women and the youth, was able to counter the disenchantment among sections of Hindus over his Sabarimala moves, which had contributed to the LDF’s rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

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Nature of politics

The LDF’s victory could change the nature of politics in the state in some significant ways. In Kerala, where freebie politics has had no great role, the free kits and pension schemes offered by the LDF government have been a major success. “It’s not freebie politics… People want delivery, development and decisive leadership. They appreciated the Chief Minister’s perseverance and commitment,” said John Brittas, the Rajya Sabha MP who has been media advisor to the CM.

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Jolt for UDF

The outcome in Kerala is not just bad news for the Congress in the state, it has the potential to dismantle the UDF itself. The Indian Union Muslim League, the leading Muslim party in the state, is likely to have complaints with the Congress’s inability to both confront the BJP at the national level, and to keep its traditional strongholds safe.

BJP down, not out

Even though Vijayan has succeeded in “closing” the account that the BJP opened in Kerala with one seat in 2016, the BJP was able to make it a triangular fight in some constituencies. The BJP’s national leadership is unlikely to take its eyes off the state, and will try to fish in the troubled waters of the Congress – and maybe get some disgruntled leaders over to its side. The central agencies that had created headaches for Vijayan and his government could continue to haunt his new government.

*Note: In the 2021 pie chart for Kerala, the Election Commission lists 14.86% as “Others”, which may contain smaller UDF and LDF constituents. In the tables, UDF and LDF include all constituent parties.

Pressure on leaders

At the same time, the LDF’s landslide victory could trigger bickering and disintegration in both the Congress and BJP. In the Congress, there will be calls for a revamp —most senior leaders including Ramesh Chennithala, Oommen Chandy, Mullappally Ramachandran, and K C Venugopal, as well as the central leadership, could be under fire. In the BJP, there will be demands for the removal of K Surendran, who failed to win either of the two constituencies he contested.

Waning community influence

The election showed the diminishing influence of community leaders in the electoral choice of the people. The LDF’s march was not slowed by the calls given by the leaders of the Church or Nair Service Society.

Organisational challenge

The results show that Vijayan was backed by the CPM cadre; he now faces the challenge of grooming a younger leadership. While the Congress still has a very strong second layer with leaders representing all communities and sects, the CPM lacks that advantage. Vijayan’s new council of ministers is expected to have a number of younger leaders.

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