Of the three states where the Congress held out against its opponents, the most spectacular was in Kerala where the party and its allies won all but one seat. Only once in Kerala’s political history has the Congress and its allies have done better – in the post-emergency elections in 1977 when it won all the 20 seats.
For the CPM and its allies that make the Left Democratic Front (LDF), this is the worst drubbing it has ever faced in terms of vote-share. Never has in the history of Kerala’s politics, their candidates lost with such large margins. In 1977, except in the Muslim pockets where the Muslim League is unrivalled, the margins of victory of the Congress and its allies ran into a few thousands, with a handful crossing the 50,000 mark; but this time half the candidates of the United Democratic Front (UDF), that the Congress leads, have won with a margin of more than a lakh of votes. It was a comprehensive, unprecedented decimation of the LDF and the CPM.
Three factors possibly have worked against the CPM and the LDF: One, the minority consolidation in favour of the UDF; two, the resentment of the Hindu “believers” against the CPM’s stand on Sabarimala and; three, the aversion to political violence that the CPM is allegedly pursuing.
The most important is the minority consolidation. The minorities – Muslims and Christians – that constitute about 44-45 per cent of the state’s population have been the UDF’s mainstay and for a long time, the CPM has been trying hard to woo them but in vain. Two minority-led political parties – the Muslim League and the Kerala Congress – are part of the UDF and that ensures that bulk of the Muslims and Christians vote with the Congress and the UDF.
With the BJP’s threat to minorities looming larger than ever before and the Congress emerging as the main fulcrum of the anti-BJP forces in the country, even the minorities that have not been politically associated in the past seemed to have moved towards the Congress and the UDF. This also included the minorities that earlier could have voted for the LDF.
The high voter-turnout in constituencies with a higher share of minorities, particularly that of Muslim women, were a clear indication that the Muslims and Christians had voted more affirmatively this time. The results, the massive margins of victory, and substantial vote-share by candidates such as Shashi Tharoor who had a close fight with the BJP in 2014, clearly indicate such a minority consolidation. Clearly, the minorities backed the Congress and the UDF, and not the LDF, as their worthwhile protector against the BJP.
Regarding Sabarimala, the aggressive stand by the CPM and the LDF government on the entry of women to the hill-shrine was a calculated gamble that also seemed to have failed. Although the LDF had a role in allowing women to Sabarimala, it went out of the way to “implement” the Supreme Court verdict. In the process, the party appeared overeager to compel women to enter the shrine, when the believers thought it was sacrilegious.
The CPM’s apparent game-plan was to act tough on an issue that the BJP had politically sided with. By taking a proactively tough stand, the CPM wanted to take on the BJP, thereby sending a message to minorities that they were the ones they could count on. But clearly, it hasn’t worked. The minorities were indifferent to the Sabarimala issue despite the CPM making a huge song and dance about it, including using its proxy system of “cultural icons” and activists.
The third element that could have acted as a setback for the CPM was its inability to counter the perception that it was a party that encouraged violence. The party has been under the scanner for political violence from time immemorial, but its failure to contain recent violent attacks by its workers and leaders certainly sent out a wrong message. There were a number of murders that the party leaders were allegedly involved in and the CPM did precious little to bring the culprits to book.
Instead, there were allegations that both the party and the government protected the culprits. The CPM has indeed been soft on some leaders accused of murders and even on those who had been convicted. The party, including its state secretary, openly justified a murder accused saying he was wrongly convicted. To counter allegations of violence, it even fielded a local leader who was chargesheeted by the CBI in a major murder case. Many thought it was an open defiance to those who opposed the culture of political violence.
The Congress and the UDF justifiably went to polls on exactly these three planks and the results show that it worked. The UDF said that on Sabarimala, they were with the believers and that nationally they were the axis of allies that fought the BJP. In the constituencies of northern Kerala where questioning the CPM’s suzerainty could be met with violence, they made political violence the sole poll-issue.
Unlike in West Bengal, this by no means is the end of the CPM, but it’s indeed a major setback. The party has to seriously work on its image and change strategies of subterfuge. Probably a straightforward approach will help redeem itself.