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Reading Kerala local body election results: Takeaways for CPM, Congress and BJP

Kerala Local Body Election Results 2020: The huge surge of the LDF is a major victory for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been the lone face of the party as well as the government.

Written by Shaju Philip , Edited by Explained Desk | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: December 21, 2020 2:31:59 pm
kerala, kerala election results, kerala result, kerala local body polls, Indian ExpressLeft Democratic Front (LDF) workers celebrate during counting day of Kerala local body elections, in Kozhikode, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (PTI Photo)

CPM: boost before big test

V for Vijayan: Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been the face of the party and government — this is his personal triumph; especially after the LDF won only one seat in the Lok Sabha elections. These are not the same as Assembly elections, but the victory will be read as a referendum on his government.

Scandal vs achievement: Vijayan’s office has been caught in the gold smuggling scandal; CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was forced to go on leave after his son was jailed in a drug case. While the opposition went after him, the CM kept the focus on the achievements of his government, especially welfare schemes and grassroots interventions, including housing for the poor.

Mani in central Kerala: Vijayan masterminded the move of the Kerala Congress (M), the Christian party led by Jose K Mani, from the UDF to the LDF, ignoring protests from the CPI. Thanks to the KC(M), the LDF has gained in traditional UDF strongholds in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta.

Secular politics focus: The Congress’s deal with the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Welfare Party of India allowed the CPM to claim that the UDF was aligning with communal forces. It brought back some Hindu voters who had turned away from the LDF over the entry of women into Sabarimala. The LDF also signalled to Christians who have been upset over Muslim organisations gaining an upper hand in the UDF.

Record of work: During the catastrophic flood of 2018, and in the initial days of the Covid-19 lockdown, LDF-ruled local bodies did a stellar job of crisis management. The government gave local bodies bigger roles in health and education, allowing them to touch people closely. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan casts his vote on December 14, 2020. (Twitter/@vijayanpinarayi)

Congress: A blow, more worry

A worrying trend: Congress-led UDF, which won 19 seats out of 20 in the Lok Sabha elections, has done well only in municipalities, winning 45 bodies out of 86. In the last civic body elections of 2010 and 2015, the verdict was against the incumbent ruling front; subsequently, in the Assembly elections of 2011 and 2016, the opposition won. With Assembly polls looming, these trends will worry the Congress.

KC(M) exit blow: The UDF failed to anticipate the damage Jose K Mani, son of the late K M Mani, would do. Jose’s rival in Kerala Cong (M), P J Joseph, failed to stem the Jose tide in central Kerala.

Wrong company: The UDF’s understanding with Jamaat-e-Islami’s Welfare Party of India — which had won several seats with LDF in 2015 — has been counterproductive.Within the UDF too, some Muslim voters were opposed to the Jamaat-e-Islami — and several Muslim religious heads close to the Indian Union Muslim League warned against the alliance. The Jamaat-e-Islami presence on the UDF platform also triggered unrest among pro-Congress Christians — the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council criticised the Congress’s decision.

Gold that didn’t shine: While local issues play a key role in civic body elections, the UDF chose to seek a “vote against corruption”, mainly based on allegations related to the gold smuggling scandal. It did not work, especially in rural areas, and against the LDF’s campaign focus on development and welfare.

A divided house: In several seats, the Congress faced rebels. Disputes over seat-sharing led to UDF allies fielding candidates against each other. In the time of Covid-19, the Congress could not match the LDF’s ground-level electoral machinery and social media campaign.

Counting of postal ballots at Alapuzha Collectorate

BJP: Consolation prize

Increasing numbers: Till late evening, the BJP was leading in 24 village panchayats — better that the 14 it won in 2015. It was not leading in any block or district panchayat, which are bigger, and where political votes matter more. It had won 10 block panchayat divisions, and was leading in several others; in 2015, it had won 21 block panchayat divisions. In municipalities, BJP has improved its presence from 236 divisions to 320 divisions. In corporations, it has gone from 51 members in 2015 to 55 divisions this time.

Sabarimala boost: The BJP had only Palakkad municipality; this time, it has retained Palakkad and wrested Pandalam municipality from the LDF. Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district was the ground zero of protests against the entry of women into Sabarimala in 2018. The BJP has also won several seats in village panchayats in Pathanamthitta.

New inroads: The BJP has got a majority in only two municipalities, but has made inroads in several others — at Mavelikkara municipality, it is neck and neck with the LDF and UDF; in Varkkala, it is giving the CPM a run for its money. At the LDF citadels of Ottappalam and Shornur municipalities, BJP has made considerable gains. In the Kannur Municipal Corporation, it has defeated the Congress, and in Nilambur municipality in Malappuram and in Ankamali municipality in Ernakulam, the BJP has won a seat each.

Capital hope dashed: Winning the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation has been top of the party’s agenda. It has a strong voter base in this urban area. But it could not reach its earlier tally of 34 in the 100-member body. After K Surendran took over as state president, cracks have widened in the party.

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