The Kerala assembly poll result, especially the impressive victory of the LDF, is being read in a slightly rigid manner. The anti-incumbency factor and the political tradition of the state for choosing alternative coalitions for a long time are overemphasised to explain the success of the Left. Although references were made on the fragility of political ideology of the CPM — which did not hesitate to form an alliance with Congress in Bengal — the enthusiasm of voters for the LDF did not get adequate attention.
Two related questions, thus, are relevant: how do voters react to the issues raised by the LDF in the election? And, did the Left Front deviate from its stated ideology to accommodate voters’ aspirations?
Lokniti’s pre-poll survey very clearly suggests that the electorate in Kerala does not subscribe to dominant pro- or anti-liberalisation rhetoric. Instead, the issues of everyday life are given priority over the grand narratives such as social justice, empowerment, and secularism. For example, a sizeable majority feels that the UDF government in the state favoured big business houses. Similarly, there is a consensus that the prime objective of government should be to take care of poor and economically deprived sections of the society. This response does not merely come from the lower-class or poor voters but the middle-class as well as the affluent section of Keralite society share this moral-political argument.
This is also true about the popularity of trade unions in the state. The majority of the respondents in the survey assert that trade unions are necessary to protect the rights of the workers, although LDF voters were more likely to say so than UDF respondents.
These findings, broadly speaking, seem to substantiate the claims made by the LDF manifesto. The criticism of the previous governments for giving tax concessions to big businesses and cutting down of the subsidies for fertilisers, food products and petroleum, in much larger sense, make a persuasive argument in favour of welfarism and pro-poor political commitment.
However, the voters’ perspective is much more nuanced. For instance, a significant number of respondents agree with the fact that privatisation of industries should not be seen as an anti-poor act.
This endorsement of privatisation in fact has gone up by nearly three times since 2011 from 20 per cent to 56 per cent (though around 30 per cent still disagree with this claim). This keenness for privatisation goes against the LDF’s criticism of neo-liberal policies, especially the FDI in multi-brand retail. There is a similar attitude towards the entry of foreign firms in Kerala with 52 per cent supporting it, although it has weakened somewhat as compared to 2011 when 56 per cent had approved of it.
Interestingly, BJP voters share much in common with the LDF voters on many of these questions than they do with the UDF voters — an indication perhaps that the BJP may have drawn a section of their votes from former LDF supporters. While only one-fourth of UDF voters opposed privatisation, among BJP and LDF voters the proportion of those opposing it was one-third. Similarly, BJP and LDF voters seemed less enthusiastic about the entry of foreign companies into Kerala than UDF voters.
Did the LDF actually accommodate these varied opinions to work out a strategic plan of action for the polls? Although the survey findings do not offer any clear answer to the question of this kind, they certainly point towards a larger political trend. In the post-2000 phase, one finds that the requirements of politics actually determine the contours of ideology.
This emerging professionalism in politics has not yet been recognised by political parties; but they seem to imbibe it in actual competitive electoral politics. At least, the LDF’s success in Kerala underlines this trajectory.