Congress may be facing dismal electoral prospects across India if Sunday’s exit poll results are to be believed. But party leaders in Kerala are upbeat after the projections showed Congress pushing the Left parties to a distant second by cornering a major share of the state’s 20 parliamentary seats. In fact, if projections ring true, Kerala could be the second big state after Tamil Nadu to contribute the most to UPA’s seat tally.
Seven out of the eight exit polls predicted that the Congress-led UDF will win at least 15 of the state’s 20 seats, leaving the rest for the CPM-led LDF. All exit polls suggest the BJP may open it’s account in the southern state with one seat, possibly Thiruvananthapuram where the saffron party fancies its chances against sitting Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. Only one exit poll – News18-Ipsos – gives an edge to the LDF in Kerala.
The exit poll projections are in line with earlier opinion polls conducted by local television networks in Kerala, which predicted huge losses for the Left parties. Barring 2004, when LDF won 19 of the state’s 20 seats, the Left has historically had to share the spoils with the UDF in parliamentary elections.
In past elections, Congress and its allies have run campaigns in the state reminding minority voters that it stands a better chance of resisting the saffron surge at the Centre. This year too, such a campaign pledge seems to have worked.
“There has been minority consolidation in favour of the Congress in Kerala. People who believe that Congress must emerge at the Centre to protect the minorities have voted for us en-bloc,” K Muraleedharan, a senior Congress leader who fought elections from Vadakara constituency in north Kerala, said.
VD Satheeshan, Kerala Congress vice president, remained hopeful of the exit poll results in favour of the party in Kerala. “We are hoping to win 16-17 seats. There have been tough fights in seven seats, out of which we aim to win three or four,” he said.
Satheeshan said Congress benefitted from a distinct anti-Modi and anti-Pinarayi sentiment in Kerala. “There were a number of factors that worked for us. One, there was a distinct anti-Modi and anti-Pinarayi sentiment in Kerala. Secondly, the presence of Rahul Gandhi in the poll fray worked to our advantage. Thirdly, we were able to put up comparatively better and stronger candidates than previous elections. In most seats, we were able to put up tough fights,” he said.
The KPCC vice-president stressed that the Pinarayi government’s handling of the Sabarimala crisis proved to be its death knell.
“Be it the arrest of Sasikala or Surendran, they (LDF) could have handled it diplomatically. Instead, they worked to strengthen the BJP at least temporarily. They calculated that their moves would weaken Congress. Clearly, it has gone wrong. Among the believers, a widespread anti-Pinarayi sentiment took hold,” he said.
However, Satheeshan admitted that the nationwide exit poll numbers for Congress were not satisfactory. “We were expecting 120-140 seats. In states like MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, where we won Assembly elections, we were expecting gains. Our assessment in Maharashtra suggests we should get more seats there,” he said.
“Clearly, the organisation has to be strengthened. There are some weak spots. In places where our organisation is strong, we are able to perform better,” he said. Muraleedharan said the party expected better results in Karnataka.
In West Bengal, where the BJP is predicted to surge ahead of the Congress and the Left in providing an alternative to the ruling Trinamool Congress, Muraleedharan said the party lost its plot.
“In Bengal, an anti-Mamata vote has clearly gone to the BJP. If the Congress and CPM had formed an alliance there, that vote would have come to us. It was important to build an alliance there,” said Muraleedharan.