How BJP will affect UDF and LDF's fate in Kerala polls
In Malabar, traditionally the stronghold of the CPM, the right wing party is a strong contender.
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If anyone tells you it will be a cakewalk for the LDF in Kerala in the Assembly elections on May 16, he is bluffing. Because even the Left does not think so. It is wary about how the bilateral contest once in every five years between the LDF and the UDF has now turned into a triangular contest, with the NDA pretending to be a serious player.
I use the word "pretend" responsibly. Because in terms of the spread, reach and cadre strength, the NDA pales in comparison with the LDF and the UDF. It has never won a seat in Kerala which means it is yet to master the craft of winning elections in Kerala, something the other two rivals are past masters at.
Yet, if the NDA is being seen as the X-factor in the 2016 elections, it is mainly because it is trying to punch above its weight. The presence of heavyweight BJP campaigners led by Prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah has elevated the decibel level of its campaign.
Moreover, there is no pan-Kerala pattern that these elections are following. In different constituencies in the three different regions of Kerala, the NDA will affect the UDF and the LDF differently. And that is what is making both fronts nervous because traditionally, less than two per cent of difference between the two fronts determines the winner.
For instance, in Malabar, traditionally the stronghold of the CPM, an aggressive BJP is being seen as a strong contender. Political violence unleashed over the last five decades by both the CPM and the RSS has made Kannur district a zone of bloodshed. The BJP has fielded candidates like Sadanandan Master, whose legs were chopped off by CPM activists 22 years ago, from Koothuparamba, in an attempt to focus attention on political violence in elections.
What the aggressive presence of the BJP is likely to do is to make the Muslim voter in Malabar think about who is likely to win the elections this time around and go with the winning front. In Malabar, therefore, a slight shift in the Muslim vote, which hitherto was in the pocket of the UDF's Muslim League, seems to be taking place. If that vote goes towards the LDF in order to prevent BJP candidates from winning, the rise of the BJP will end up helping the LDF in Malabar. Muslims are 26 per cent of Kerala's population and a majority of them are in Malabar.
At the same time, in many other pockets, especially in the Travancore region (south Kerala), a Hindu consolidation of sorts is taking place with the Nairs not happy with UDF's track record on corruption, tactically moving towards the BJP. The Ezhava vote which was hitherto with the LDF may also move, to an extent, to the BJP thanks to its tie up with Vellapally Natesan of the SNDP.
The strategy of the UDF is to pump up the BJP challenge, which is why you see Oommen Chandy speaking of the Kerala elections as a UDF versus BJP affair, something he knows is not true. The intention is to give two impressions: one, that the UDF is coming back to power and thereby prevent the Muslims in Malabar from deserting its ship and two, split the anti-incumbency vote between the LDF and BJP and help the UDF scrape through.
The present battle of words between the Congress and the BJP is to be seen in that context. The Somalia comparison that Modi made gave an issue to the Congress on a platter and that helped the Congress add to the perception that the BJP is trying to undermine Kerala. At the same time, another front has been opened by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, taking Chandy on over who paid for the evacuations of Keralites from trouble-torn Libya and Iraq.
Even when Congress president Sonia Gandhi toured Kerala, she chose to target the BJP. I see this as a fallout of the Bengal dosti. After shaking hands with the Left in Kolkata, it is difficult to do kushti with the same leftists in Thiruvananthapuram. Hence, the plan to make it a UDF versus BJP battle seems a better electoral strategy for the Congress.
Not surprisingly, Pinarayi Vijayan, the strongman of the CPM in Kerala and one of the two chief ministerial candidates, has been alleging Congress-BJP match-fixing, to keep the LDF out of Thiruvananthapuram's power centre.
The Christian vote in Kerala, the other big component at 19 per cent, has always stayed with the UDF and so far there is nothing to suggest that it has moved away from different factions of the UDF. However, what no one quite knows is the extent to which corruption charges against the likes of former finance minister KM Mani, a heavyweight from the Christian community, could affect the UDF. And if indeed it does, it would definitely benefit the LDF. So this is an imponderable matter both the UDF and the LDF are grappling with.
In the 2011 Assembly elections, the UDF got 45.83 per cent of the vote while LDF had 44.9 per cent. That resulted in a wafer-thin majority for the UDF (72) with LDF's tally at 68. The BJP had 6.03 per cent vote share. But what is significant is that in nearly 35 constituencies, the winning margin was less than 5,000 votes. In 2016, these vulnerable seats could decide kaun banega mukhyamantri.
On the face of it, despite the UDF's fairly impressive development record, its corruption scandals are likely to singe it at the EVM (electronic voting machine). Add to it the tendency in Kerala for the UDF and LDF to play musical chairs every five years. One would think the result in Kerala should be easy to predict. But not this time.
Only one thing is certain. The BJP will open its account even if it means half-a-dozen seats or less. But its performance could end up deciding the number of MLAs UDDF and LDF will have in many constituencies, especially in south Kerala.