High Voter Turnout Cuts Kerala Along Communal Lines
If the high voter turnout in Kerala is anything to go by, then the electorate here is all set to send across a strong message, which could shift the present political paradigm in the state. The direction of this shift however will remain a mystery till the EVMs are opened on May 23. But observers agree that in all certainty there are no mixed currents and the wind certainly seems to be blowing in one definite direction.
It is not for the first time that Kerala came out to vote in large numbers. Compared to many other places in the country, the most literate electorate in India had never shied away from expressing their intent at the polling booth. But the situation is vastly different from recent times in the past.
For starters, the sheer percentage of voting at 77.86, which is a thirty year high.
Compared to 2014’s Lok Sabha turnout of 74.02%, there was close to a three percentage point increase in vote share this time round. This, when translated into the vote difference or the additional number of people who would have likely voted this year, the jump is as big as 23 lakhs. In short twenty three lakh more votes might have been polled this year compared to the last Lok Sabha election. Of this, the number of first time voters as per the Election Commission records comes close to six lakhs.
Even if one were to deduct all the first time voters (assuming all of them turned up to vote), the big question that stares at Kerala is what the triggers would have been for an additional 17 lakh voters to come out and vote. What could have been the biggest issues on the basis of which these voters would have pressed the button? The Lede makes an attempt to understand this.
“The high percentage of voting is certainly the reflection of the high voltage campaign that has happened across Kerala by all the three political fronts. There seems to be a polarisation on the ground but we have to still wait to see in which manner and to what extent. We have to believe that the Muslim vote bank has been consolidated like never before and the general consensus is that it will favour the UDF (United Democratic Front). At certain places the Hindu vote bank too was consolidated. But will that help the BJP? That’s too tough to say at this point,” political commentator Joseph C Mathew told The Lede.
Mathew’s words give hope for the Congress-led UDF in the state and they certainly have a lot to look forward to, given the pattern of voting in the state.
“The UDF certainly has an upper hand in these elections and will win maximum seats. The Left has sensed defeat and that is why they are finding silly excuses as vote transfer between UDF and BJP to explain this,” Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala told media persons.
The UDF's confidence stems from the fact that whenever there is a high voter turnout in Lok Sabha elections it has favoured the Congress-led front. From 2009 as the percentages went up, the UDF kept winning.
The belief has also got to do with the peculiar pattern of garnering votes by both the fronts over the years before the BJP started making inroads into the state.
It is always believed that the Left parties with their cadre strength ensures that none of its core votes, the party workers’ votes nor the supporters’ fail to fall in their kitty whatever be the political situation staring the parties in their face. But whenever the polling percentage skyrockets, as it has done this time, the neutral voters do ensure that the Left parties are mostly made to suffer.
The CPI(M) is rubbishing this claim and saying that they have enough reports from the ground to believe that they are winning a maximum number of seats across the state, a claim that has been met with skepticism in these elections.
“We will repeat 2004 where we had good polling which resulted in the Left front winning 18 seats. Not only that, BJP will not open its account in Kerala,’’ claims CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
But Balakrishnan forgets that in 2004, the polling percentage had only been 71.4%, which is much less than 2009 and 2014 when the Congress returned with a vengeance in Kerala. This time it is a staggering 77.68%.
BJP however, has its hopes still pinned very much on Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta, both places where Sabarimala has been a rallying point.
The Pathanamthitta Story
The electoral story in Pathanamthitta is perhaps the most important one in Kerala because from the lowest percentage of votes at 66.02% polled in 2014, Pathanamthitta took a giant leap this time to finish at 74.19%. The BJP believes that the eight percentage points hike is from the Sabarimala factor which had consolidated the majority vote bank in its favour.
At the hotbed of the Sabarimala agitation, the BJP had put in one of its most vociferous campaigns for K Surendran, who had been jailed for 28 days for the Sabarimala agitation.
Surendran’s high decibel campaign would give a feeling that his victory was imminent given the huge support he had been getting among the electorate, especially the women.
On the day of the polling too, women had come out in large numbers to cast their votes especially in the Hindu dominated assembly constituencies like Adoor, Konni, Pathanamthitta and Aranmula.
The BJP even thinks that at Pathanamthitta the party has a better chance of opening its account than in Thiruvananthapuram where Shashi Tharoor had recovered during the last stages of the campaign and on the polling day due to heavy voting by the minorities.
“Look at the pattern of voting. In majority dominated areas where over the years polling had been less has shown tremendous interest this time round especially among the women. Eight percentage points means a clear increase of eighty thousand votes. We are not claiming we will get all of those. But our ground reports do confirm that Surendran will win at Pathanamthitta,’’ says MS Kumar, BJP state spokesperson and in-charge of Pathanamthitta constituency.
But even such numbers cannot assure Surendran of an outright win. The reason is the pattern of voting that had taken place in the constituency. All the Christian belts across the constituency had seen equally high polling. The BJP hopes that the Christian vote will split among the two other candidates who are both from the community, thereby facilitating a Surendran victory.
At Thiruvananthapuram, it will be a touch-and-go situation as once again the constituency witnessed heavy polling in minority dominated areas. If Kummanam Rajasekharan of the BJP had been leading the race in the run-up to the polls due to Sabarimala and infighting in the Congress, Tharoor seems to have made a strong comeback in the last few days and especially on polling day.
While Congress strongholds like Kovalam and Neyyatinkara saw very heavy polling, the BJP’s stronghold inside the capital city and urban pockets saw considerably lesser turnout. Whether that will hurt Rajasekharan is anybody's guess. Even though analysts are still giving Tharoor an edge, none of them is ready to risk a call on Thiruvananthapuram.
The Rahul Gandhi Factor
If in South Kerala it is Sabarimala, come north and the issue has few takers. But there is an equally strong factor in northern Kerala to swing votes especially among the minority Muslim community – The Rahul Gandhi factor.
Throughout all the northern constituencies barring Ponnani and Malappuram, which are Muslim League strongholds, the polling percentage crossed 80% while the state figures remain three points less. There is only one phenomenon that explains this – a heavy consolidation of the Muslim vote bank towards one party, experts say.
“The Muslims in north Kerala do realise that the fight is against the Modi government in Delhi. Many of the social media campaigns that allegedly show the Sangh Parivar’s anti-minority policies created a flutter among the Muslims of this region. That’s why they came out in large numbers to vote. It is an election where the Muslim voters are strongly backing the League and the UDF under Rahul Gandhi,’’ claims Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) state general secretary KPA Majeed.
Majeed also added that contrary to the Left claims that the consolidation of the Muslim votes favours them, since the community had very recently shown some gravitation towards the front, the minority votes would only favour the Congress led front since the fight in Delhi is between them and the BJP, with the Left hardly in the picture.
Political observers agree not only to the extent that the Muslims votes will go to the UDF but also are of the strong opinion that the Left could be trounced in north Kerala.
“Except Palakkad where they still have some hope, I don’t see the Left winning a single seat in north Kerala. This is because on the ground we can sense a paradigm shift in the loyalty of the minority vote bank back to the Congress after Rahul’s candidature. Also the Muslim League has done phenomenal work in this election, even better than Congress workers,’’ noted political analyst and Aam Admi Party state convenor CR Neelakandan told The Lede.
Tides Turning Against Pinarayi?
On April 24 when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was approached by media persons to comment on the high polling percentage he lashed back with his characteristic contempt - “Step away from here,” was the strong retort that reporters faced from Vijayan.
Political analysts place this anger of the Chief Minister to an impending anti-Left wave which has much likely taken shape in Kerala in these elections.
A source at Special Branch police told The Lede that a secret report submitted to the Chief Minister the morning after Kerala polls suggests a landslide for the UDF with even the BJP opening its account, which perhaps explains Vijayan’s loss of temper.
If so the biggest impact will be the erosion of the majority community vote bank from the Left which for years had been the backbone of Left politics in Kerala. According to ground reports, even the backward sections among the majority community could shift their loyalties from the Left front. That would mean a complete rout.
While issues like Sabarimala rule the roost, the public anger, experts say, is not so much against the party as much as against its chief Pinarayi Vijayan.
“For instance the steps taken by Vijayan on Sabarimala has not just hurt the Hindus badly but also succeeded in creating a lot of suspicion and to a large extent even anger among believers of other communities also. Even sections among the CPM supporters are disenchanted with his actions. That could go against him in this election,’’ added Joseph C Mathew.
Many point out that even though Vijayan had not been a bad administrator, his autocratic style of functioning and public display of arrogance had created tremendous displeasure among people. When that is perceived by the voters, especially the neutral ones, as a let down on their mandate, a backlash, observers say, could only have been a matter of time.
“All said and done this Left government has not done badly in terms of governance. But all that is lost to the Chief Minister’s arrogance and his attitude expressed in public. That is what made news and not the performance of the government. Hence there is certainly a section who wants this to be a vote against Vijayan’s arrogance. No doubt about that and you can see that also being reflected in these elections,” noted left thinker and commentator NM Pearson told The Lede.