The resounding victory in the local body polls late last year probably set the template for the LDF for the Assembly elections.
There were no surprises in Kerala. All forecasts and exit polls predicted a victory for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the LDF romped home with plenty to spare. In the process, the LDF broke a decades-long jinx of no party retaining power. Kerala has always alternated between the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) at every election.
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The BJP, which had one seat in the outgoing Assembly and hoped to improve its tally, drew a blank. The party had roped in former Delhi Metro chief, E. Sreedharan, popularly known as ‘Metroman’, to contest the elections from Palakkad. He too was unsuccessful. Just like in Tamil Nadu, where the two Dravidian parties hold sway, in Kerala, it is only the LDF and the UDF that matter.
There were many factors that contributed to the LDF’s triumph, the most important of which was how Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan handled the fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic induced lockdown and how he kept communicating with the people on what the government was doing. The LDF Government provided food kits that included essential grocery items to all ration card holders irrespective of their income. This struck the right chord with all sections of the population.
Also, the Left Front dropped a couple of senior ministers from its list of candidates in line with the Left’s policy of not giving more than two terms to its MLAs. This sent out a clear message to the party rank-and-file and to the Opposition. Consequently, the Left Front was able to field a few new and young faces. The resounding victory in the local body polls late last year probably set the template for the LDF for the Assembly elections. Pinarayi Vijayan roped in a few smaller parties, despite opposition from some of the Left Front constituents, all of which have paid dividends in the Assembly election.
The Congress did not learn its lessons. It was a divided house and the UDF was in no position to project a chief ministerial candidate, which too contributed to its defeat. The Congress has marginally improved its vote share in the elections to 25.12 percent from 23.70 percent in 2016 but dropped a seat in its tally to 21 now. The IUML, which is part of the UDF, increased its vote share from 7.4 percent in 2016 to 8.27 percent, saw its tally falling from 18 to 15 seats. The LDF has 99 members in the 140-member house and the UDF the remaining.
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Chief Minister Vijayan was under tremendous pressure after a senior bureaucrat in his office was arrested in the gold smuggling case. That it did not impact the election outcome even though it was a major campaign issue was thanks to the deft handling of the matter by the Chief Minister. The LDF government hired professional agencies to highlight and propagate its achievements and successes.
There will be a few new faces in the LDF Government when it is sworn in, but the reassuring aspect for the people is that there will be continuity in the administration in the State, which is recording a large number of coronavirus cases daily.
The challenges for Vijayan in his second term will be to deal with the Covid pandemic and ensure that the numbers are brought down in double-quick time. During the first wave, the Government was able to divert funds from various infrastructure projects for covid relief. How long will it be able to do so is a big question. The State’s economy is dependent on remittances from Keralites working in the Gulf countries, tourism and the plantation sector. With tourism unlikely to take off in the near future and remittances likely to drop further due to the reverse migration of workers from the Gulf, the State’s finances will take a long time to recover. From where the government will find the money to fund the continued Covid relief work is a big question.
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For the Congress, this defeat should come as a major embarrassment especially since its leader Rahul Gandhi had spent a lot of time campaigning in the State. The party had done exceptionally well in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections winning 19 of the 20 seats with Rahul Gandhi himself winning from Wayanad. Even before the election, there was clamour for a change of leadership at the State level and the induction of fresh, young faces. Now that demand will grow louder as the party has to sit it out in the opposition for another five years.
The BJP too spent a lot of time and resources in Kerala, hoping for consolidation of Hindu votes as a fall-out of the Left Front government implementing the Supreme Court’s order allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple. In the end, public resentment against this did not translate into votes or seats, although the BJP marginally increased its vote share to 11.30 percent from 10.53 percent in 2016.
As the Abba song goes, the ‘winner takes it all’ and right now it is Pinarayi Vijayan who is the undisputed winner. To him go all the spoils. However, he will not have time to bask in the glory of leading the LDF to an unprecedented victory, as dealing with a raging pandemic is of paramount importance.
— N Ramakrishnan is a Chennai-based freelance journalist with over three decades of experience. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)