With a three-cornered contest in Kerala this time, featuring Congress president Rahul Gandhi and both the Congress and BJP taking on the CPI(M)-led state government on the Sabarimala issue, seen as having led to the highest voter turnout in Lok Sabha elections in 30 years, leaders from all three fronts have their fingers crossed, even as each claimed to be the beneficiary of the record voting.
All 20 seats in the southern coastal state went to the polls on Tuesday, recording 77.68-per cent polling — up from 74.02 per cent in 2014, and 73.37 per cent in 2009.
In 1999, the state saw 70 per cent polling, while it was 79 per cent in 1989.
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This year, eight constituencies have registered more than 80 per cent polling, and only six recorded polling below 75 per cent. While four seats saw less than 70 per cent voting in 2014, all 20 went past that mark this time.
Wayanad, where Rahul Gandhi is in the fray, has recorded 80.31 per cent voting — up from 73.29 per cent in 2014 — while Pathanamthitta, where the issue of the Pinarayi Vijayan government allowing entry of women of all ages to Sabarimala, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, is expected to have played a key role, registered 74.19 per cent polling, against 66.02 per cent in 2014.
Congress Working Committee member and former Kerala chief minister A K Antony said that the voters were visibly determined this time.
“In the Sabarimala issue, sentiments of even the Christian community were against the Chief Minister, who had shown undue enthusiasm in the temple issue (allowing entry of young women). Besides, the BJP government (at the Centre) has created a sense of unease among people in Kerala, who believe that anarchy will rule if the BJP returns to power.”
BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the NDA has great expectations in the poll outcome.
“We hope the BJP will get the largest mandate in this election. (We) expect to win a couple of seats in Kerala,” he said.
Asked about his opinion on the high turnout, a seemingly irritated Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media “maari nilkku angottu (keep away)” and walked ahead.
Heavy polling was reported in areas dominated by minority communities. A sizable chunk of young voters below the age of 20 in Kerala — who will cast their votes for the first time — also belongs to the Muslim community. It is not clear, however, which of the two front among the CPI(M)-led LDF and Congress-led UDF benefits from this, or whether first-time voters in the state go for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal.
With the Sabarimala issue seen as having playing a major factor in these elections, particularly in the constituencies in southern Kerala, the swing of hardline Hindu voters, aggrieved over the LDF’s stand on the temple issue, will also be decisive. Both the Congress and the BJP expect that the ire of voters on Sabarimala issue will come to their kitty.
But in case this category of votes gets divided between the two parties, the CPI(M)-led LDF could be an unexpected beneficiary.