The results of Kerala’s local bodies polls would be a big relief for the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), which fought the polls battling corruption allegations. The Front bucked anti-incumbency to win five of the state’s six municipal corporations — one more than in 2015 — besides making gains in central Kerala, a stronghold of the Congress-led United Democratic Front. Though it managed to win a majority of municipalities, the UDF has reasons to worry about its insipid performance, less than six months before the assembly election. The BJP improved its tally in all the tiers, but has failed to consolidate its rising vote share to grab at least one corporation or make a splash in any region. Clearly, the party has to cover a lot more ground before it can hope to redraw Kerala’s two-front political map.
The LDF’s success owes much to welfare measures undertaken by the Pinarayi Vijayan government, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. The local bodies were in the forefront of ensuring relief — medical and material help. The government beefed up the public distribution system and provided extra rations as well as special monthly kits when economic activities ceased in the wake of the pandemic. The lockdown had increased the dependency of people on public welfare and goods and the government rose to the challenge. On the political front, the CPM benefited from the absence of factionalism that had plagued the party in the past, the entry of a faction of the Kerala Congress, a party with influence among Christians, into the LDF, and the smart move to field a large number of women and youth. The Congress, on the other hand, was listless in its election campaign and poll management. Though the UDF won 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019, the Congress has been unable to stem the leak of cadres and lower-level party functionaries to the BJP in the wake of increasing communal polarisation in the state. Also, a divided party leadership was unconvincing when it spoke about the scandals that had embroiled the chief minister’s office and the CPM state secretary’s family.
The assembly election will have a political dynamic of its own, of course. But the results of local bodies polls are ominous for the Congress in one of its few remaining strongholds. The party seems to be wilting in the heat from both the CPM and the BJP, particularly the latter since it became the party of office at the Centre. With the erosion in its social base, the Congress is now dependent solely on anti-incumbency against the CPM to win elections. But there may not be enough of it always.
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