Only a few months before Assembly elections in Kerala, the ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) received a shot in the arm on Wednesday, making major gains in local body elections in the state.
The results delivered a stinging blow to the Congress, which had run an aggressive campaign against the government over the gold smuggling case in which Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office had come under the scanner, and the arrest of former CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son in a drug-related money laundering case.
The LDF won five of the six Municipal Corporations; the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), which had won two the last time, won only one.
Of the 86 Municipalities, however, the UDF won 45, while the Left won 35. The BJP-led NDA won two.
The Left made major advances in the District Panchayats, winning 10 out of 14; the score was 7-7 the last time. Of the 152 Block Panchayats, the Left won 104, relegating the UDF to just 44.
And of the 941 Gram Panchayats, the LDF won 514 as against the UDF’s 377. The NDA won 22 Gram Panchayats.
The Congress’s dismal performance in Kerala comes after its disastrous showing in the Bodoland Territorial Council elections in Assam, where Assembly polls will be held along with Kerala in the early summer.
The Congress did badly in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, and in Assembly by-elections and Bihar Assembly elections as well. In Rajasthan, the party suffered reverses in the Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad elections, but did well in the Urban Local Bodies elections.
Chief Minister Vijayan said the election results showed that the people were with the LDF, and wanted it to continue in power after the Assembly elections, bucking the state’s trend of alternating between the UDF and LDF every five years.
Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala conceded that the “massive public sentiment” against the Left over the “corruption scandals” did not reflect fully in the elections – however, he argued that the UDF had more or less managed to repeat its 2015 performance, and that its support base was intact.
The outcome was a disappointment for the BJP too – its gains in certain pockets notwithstanding. Significantly, the BJP failed to dislodge the LDF from power in the prestige battle for the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation.
The results are a major victory for Vijayan, who received a setback in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, when the LDF could win only one of the state’s 20 seats. Balakrishnan had been even forced to go on leave after his son was jailed in a drug case. Although local body elections are very different from those for the Assembly, Wednesday’s results are being seen as a referendum on the state’s LDF government.
While Chennithala and state Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran argued that the UDF had retained its base, there were several angry voices in the party.
Former KPCC president and Lok Sabha MP K Muraleedharan hit out at the state leadership. And Thrissur MP T N Prathapan told The Indian Express: “We need to deeply introspect. We should identify shortcomings in our organisational set up at the lower levels…We should make corrections. In politics, decisions and the positions we take are very important…they should be timely… If the Congress does not apply corrective measures at appropriate levels before the Assembly elections, we will face difficulty. There should be a treatment, (and) if treatment is not enough and surgery is needed, it should be done.”
Ramachandran could be targeted at the Congress Political Affairs Committee is meeting on Thursday, sources said. Party leaders attributed the defeat to the decision to have a local-level alliance with the Welfare Party of India, the political arm of the Jamaat-e-Islami; the Kerala Congress (M)’s switch to the LDF; the deficiencies in the organisation at the lower levels; and faulty ticket distribution. A Congress MP who did not want to be named said the government’s welfare schemes and grassroots-level intervention during the Covid lockdown had made a difference.
As for the BJP, the disappointment in Thiruvananthapuram notwithstanding, it has made some gains in local bodies across the state and, more significantly, struck another blow for its long-term goal of weakening the Congress to become the alternative political force in the state. The results indicate that the BJP and its allies have eaten into the Congress vote at many places.
While the LDF gained in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts from the entry of the Kerala Congress (Mani) into its fold, the BJP has cashed in on the situation. In Kottayam municipality, both the LDF and the UDF are short of majority, and the NDA’s eight members could be the kingmakers.
The BJP has been reaching out to the Christian community in the state, taking advantage of the deepening disenchantment among Church leaders over the increasing influence of the Indian Union Muslim League in the UDF. The Congress’s disappointing performance in this election could encourage community leaders to put some distance between the UDF and themselves in the areas where the community had backed it strongly. The UDF’s failure to retain its dominance in the Kochi and Thrissur Corporations would indicate that its traditional Christian support base is getting eroded. The BJP would work to take advantage of this situation, party sources in Delhi said.
While retaining its dominance in Palakkad Municipality, the BJP appears to have maintained the edge that it had gained in places where the protests against the Supreme Court’s verdict on the entry of women into the Sabarimala shrine – and the LDF government’s attempt to implement it – had been the strongest.
The NDA has also opened its account in Angamaly Municipality, where the Christian community is considered to have deep influence, and in Kannur, which has witnessed bloody conflict between the CPI-M and the RSS.
That said, however, the state’s BJP leadership would be embarrassed over the failure of its high-stakes bid to win the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation. The party had campaigned to have a “BJP Mayor receive Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visits Kerala’s capital city”.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines