Assembly Elections: Kerala

Red-letter day in Kerala

Print edition : May 21, 2021

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (centre) greeting leaders and supporters following the LDF’s victory, in Kannur on May 2. Photo: S.K. Mohan/AP

An LDF supporter waving the CPI(M) flag in Kannur on May 2. Photo: S.K. Mohan

Ramesh Chennithala , Leader of the Opposition, at a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on March 17. The results have come as a big blow to the Congress-led UDF and threaten even its very existence as a cohesive front in the coming days. Photo: Mahinsha S

Kummanam Rajasekharan (left), BJP’s candidate from Nemom, during a roadshow with J.P. Nadda, BJP national president, in Thiruvananthapuram on March 27. The BJP, which held high hopes of winning at least the Nemom, Palakkad and Manjeswaram seats, even when the counting went into the final rounds, lost them all. Photo: PTI

In a historic verdict, Kerala returns the Left Democratic Front to power for the positive impact its government made on people’s lives, efficient governance, development activities and visionary policies. Despite its tall claims, the BJP lost even the single seat it had in the Assembly and the Congress-led United Democratic Front finds itself weak and clueless.

Kerala made history, giving a second term in office for a government after a gap of nearly four decades, thus endorsing, and simultaneously demanding a repeat of, the positive, people-friendly policies and efficient governance that had become the stamp of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) administration led by Pinarayi Vijayan from 2016.

The outcome was not unexpected but the scale of victory was stunning, with the LDF winning 99 out of the total 140 seats in the Assembly, reducing the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to a weak, clueless force in the State with just 41 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won its first-ever seat in the State in 2016 and rode on a lavish, star-studded campaign this time claiming that it would win at least 35 seats and “somehow come to power”, lost the only seat it held.

It was the first time that an incumbent Left Front government was voted back to power in the State. The record victory margin of Health Minister K.K. Shailaja (60,963), who along with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (victory margin 50,123) had drawn wide attention for their competent handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and the categorical victory of some other LDF Ministers and MLAs similarly admired for their efficiency, policy initiatives and clean record in office, told a tale of its own about the State’s changing political preferences and the sort of governments it wanted to have.

As in the local body elections that were held four months earlier, the allegations of corruption and nepotism that the Congress and the BJP-led opposition fronts repeatedly raised against the government, and the agitations they sponsored, often ignoring how it affected crucial government functioning at a time when the State was going through one crisis after another, failed to win them votes this time too.
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Kerala chose to reward the LDF for the positive impact its government made on people’s lives, ensuring food security, providing jobs and essential services during the two major floods and other calamities and the period of Nipah and COVID-19 pandemic, the development activities it undertook in the State despite its financial constraints, and the innovative, visionary policies it initiated.

That the opposition UDF was sharply out of sync with the reality was evident in Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala’s response to the election outcome: “The verdict was unexpected. But the LDF’s victory does not mean that we will not pursue the allegations we had raised,” he said.

Left dominance

The nature of the results in the 14 districts of Kerala showed the extent of the LDF’s dominance in this election. The ruling coalition won the majority of seats in 11 districts. It won 13 of the 14 seats in Thiruvananthapuram district, nine of the 11 seats in Kollam, all five seats in Pathanamthitta, eight of the nine seats in Alappuzha, four of the five seats in Idukki, five of the nine seats in Kottayam, 12 of the 13 seats in Thrissur, 10 of the 12 seats in Palakkad, 11 of the 13 seats in Kozhikode, nine of the 11 seats in Kannur, and three of the five seats in Kasargod.

The UDF won nine of the 14 seats in Ernakulam district, 12 of the 16 seats in Malappuram and two of the three seats in Wayanad.

The LDF’s vote share rose from 43.35 per cent in 2016 to 45.43 per cent and the UDF’s share from 38.79 per cent in 2016 to 39.40 per cent, while the BJP’s share of votes fell from 15.01 per cent in 2016 to 12.4 per cent, according to figures quoted by Pinarayi Vijayan at a press meet in Thiruvananthapuram on May 4. Provisional estimates showed that the LDF got nearly 12.42 lakh (5.96 per cent) votes more than the UDF.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) won 67 of the 86 seats it contested, only four seats short of finding a majority on its own. Its coalition partner, the Communist Party of India (CPI), won 17 of the 25 seats it contested. Both the CPI(M) and the CPI contested fewer number of seats than they did last time, giving some of their seats to new coalition partners. It was thus an expanded LDF coalition of 11 parties that faced the election.

As Frontline had reported, the Kerala Congress (M) led by Jose K. Mani, a major UDF partner for decades, left that coalition just before the local body elections in December 2020 to join the LDF. It won only five of the 12 seats it contested, which was perhaps more than it had bargained for after switching sides. Its chairman Jose K. Mani lost in Pala that had been his father K.M. Mani’s fief for over five decades until his death in 2019.

More shocking for Jose K. Mani’s party was his defeat at the hands of Mani C. Kappan, the former Nationalist Congress Party leader, who, as an LDF candidate, wrested the Pala seat from the UDF in the byelection following K.M. Mani’s death. But once Jose K. Mani and his Kerala Congress joined the LDF, Kappan joined the opposition and contested against Jose K. Mani at Pala. All the five seats the Kerala Congress (M) won were traditional UDF strongholds, which would have otherwise gone to the opposition.

Similarly, the Loktantric Janata Dal (LJD), which had left the UDF earlier to join the LDF, saw its leader M.V. Shreyams Kumar facing defeat at Kalpetta, which was held by his father, M. P. Veerendra Kumar. The party got only one seat (Koothuparambu, which was won by former MLA K.P. Mohanan) of the three it contested this time.

In a high-profile battle at Vadakara, the LJD candidate Manayath Chandran lost to K.K. Rema, wife of the slain Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) leader T.P Chandrasekharan, by 7,491 votes. The UDF’s gamble of supporting RMP’s K.K. Rema as an Independent candidate paid off. Rema, who has sworn to be the voice of her late husband against the CPI(M), will be one of the women MLAs in the opposition benches in the new Assembly.

Of the other LDF constituents, the Janata Dal (S) won two of the four seats it contested; the Indian National League (INL) one of the three seats it contested; the NCP two; and the Congress(S), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (L), the Kerala Congress (B) and the Janadhipathya Kerala Congress one seat each.
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The only Minister in the LDF government who faced defeat was J. Mercykutty Amma who held the Fisheries portfolio. Fighting for a second term from Kundara in Kollam district, she lost to P.C. Vishnunath, a former MLA and a reluctant Congress candidate who joined the campaign only in its last few weeks and also faced a lot of disgruntlement about his candidature from within his own party. The deep-sea fishing controversy (over the apparent signing of a deal with an American firm for deep-sea fishing and allied processing), which the Congress raised in a big way in the campaign, hoping to win voters in the coastal areas, seems to have affected her prospects. She lost to Vishnunath for 4,454 votes.

In addition to Pinarayi Vijayan, members of his Cabinet Kadakampally Surendran, M.M. Mani, A.C. Moideen, T.P. Ramakrishnan, K.K. Shailaja, E. Chandrasekharan, K. Krishnan Kutty, A.K. Saseendran, Kadannappally Ramachandran, and Deputy Speaker V. Sasi won with better margins than last time. Former Minister K.T. Jaleel, who resigned on April 13 following allegations raised by the opposition and the BJP, former Minister Mathew T. Thomas, and former Speaker K. Radhakrishnan are also in the list of important winners.

Blow to the UDF

The results have come as a big blow to the UDF and threaten even its very existence as a cohesive front in the coming days. The Congress, which contested in 93 seats, could win just 21, despite introducing an unexpected list of candidates (though at the last minute) with nearly 55 per cent new faces and the party’s national leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi campaigning throughout the State.

The Congress had been facing elections in the State since 2011 with a dreadfully weakened party structure, and was already growing more and more dependent on the limited but critical strengths of its smaller regional allies such as the Muslim League for fighting the LDF.

This time, the Muslim League, with its solid support base in Muslim-dominated Malappuram and other northern districts, too faced a setback, perhaps the worst in 15 years, losing four seats, while wresting one from the LDF. Even though it contested in three more seats than it did in 2016, the League failed to benefit from it.

In the 2016 elections, despite the UDF’s defeat, the Muslim League on its own won 18 of the 24 seats it contested. This time, many of its top leaders, including P.K. Kunjalikkutty and K.P.A. Majeed won with reduced margins of victory, even though the party retained all the seats in Malappuram district. The only woman candidate that the party fielded after a gap of 25 years, Noorbina Rashid, lost from Kozhikode South, a seat that it won in the last election.
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The League also lost Azhikode, which its controversial candidate K.M. Shaji had won twice earlier; Kalamassery in Ernakulam district, where it fielded former Minister Ibrahim Kunju’s son V.E. Abdul Gafoor despite the Minister’s arrest in a prominent bridge construction project in Kochi and inner-party protests as a result; and the Kuttiyadi seat in Kozhikode.

As expected, the Congress’s decision during the seat-sharing exercise to give in to the over-ambitious demands of the Kerala Congress (Joseph) also cost the UDF dearly. The Kerala Congress led by Joseph contested in 12 seats (same as the number of seats that the Kerala Congress (Mani) group did as part of the ruling LDF), but won just two.

The 79-year-old P.J. Joseph himself won from his fief, Thodupuzha in Idukki district, against a Kerala Congress(M) rival, but for nearly half of the record majority he got in 2016. The only other candidate from Joseph’s camp who won was Monce Joseph, sitting MLA, who defeated Stephen George of the Kerala Congress (M) at Kaduthuruthi in Kottayam district.

Three other UDF seats included one each of the Kerala Congress (Jacob), the National Congress Kerala (NCK) and the RMP.

BJP closes its account

The BJP, which held high hopes of winning at least the Nemom, Palakkad and Manjeswaram seats, even when the counting went into the final rounds, eventually lost them all. As Pinarayi Vijayan had promised Kerala voters, the CPI(M) ensured that the account the BJP had opened at Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram in 2016 was closed this time.

Kummanam Rajasekharan, former Mizoram Governor and the party’s former State president, the BJP’s candidate at Nemom, lost to the CPI(M)’s V. Sivakutty for 8,671 votes, but this time in a more convincing ‘three-cornered fight’ in which the Congress had fielded its own candidate. In 2016, in a contest that was so crucial for the BJP, the UDF fielded Surendran Pillai, a former Minister who had switched sides from a Kerala Congress faction in the LDF on the eve of the election campaign and had very little support in the constituency. The Congress machinery too abandoned the UDF’s unconvincing candidate in that election.

But this time the Congress fielded K. Muraleedharan, its Member of Parliament from Vadakara, who was presented as its ‘giant killer’ to demolish the BJP at Nemom. Muraleedharan, however, came only third, though he might have helped draw a large number of votes away from the BJP, thus helping Sivankutty’s victory.
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BJP State president K. Surendran, who contested from two constituencies, lost both seats. He came second in Manjeswaram (against the Muslim League’s A.K.M. Ashraf who won by 745 votes) and in the third place at Konni, the constituency that included the Sabarimala temple and its foothills. (The BJP had invoked the government’s handling of the Sabarimala issue in a big way in this election.) At Konni, Surendran got only 32,811 votes as against the LDF’s K.U. Janeesh Kumar (62,318 votes) and the UDF’s Robin Peter (53,810 votes).

Another candidate on which the BJP leadership pinned a lot of hopes on, ‘Metroman’ E. Sreedharan, lost to two-time Congress MLA Shafi Parambil for 3,859 votes in Palakkad. Shafi Parambil got 54,079 votes, Sreedharan 50,220 and the LDF’s C.P. Pramod 36,433 votes. The BJP’s consolation perhaps was that it came second in nine seats this time as against seven seats in 2016.

Prominent UDF leaders, including former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Muslim League leader P.K. Kunjalikkutty, and former Minister K. Babu have been re-elected. But several young faces in the UDF, including K.S. Sabareenathan, Anil Akkara, K.M. Shaji and V.T. Balaram, lost in the prestigious battles of 2021. Other prominent opposition leaders who lost are former Ministers V.S. Sivakumar, P.K. Jayalakshmi, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party’s Shibu Baby John.

The LDF wrested 16 seats from the opposition camp. This includes 13 from the UDF, Nemom from the National Democratic Alliance, and Poonjar, where Independent candidate P.C. George, who won in 2016 defeating the candidates of all the major fronts and several other Independents in the last elections. This time he lost to Sebastian Kulathunkal, a Kerala Congress (M) candidate. The UDF won eight seats from the LDF camp, four of them from the CPI(M), two from the CPI, one from the JD(S), and another that of the CPI(M) Independent, Karat Razak, in Koduvally (by Muslim League leader and former Minister M.K. Muneer.)

Among other prominent winners from the LDF camp are former CPI(M) central committee member M.V. Govindan; former Members of Parliament P. Rajeev, K.N. Balagopal and M.B. Rajesh; former Minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar; MLAs A.N. Shamsheer, Muhammed Mohsin and U. Prathibha; former MLAs V. Sivankutty and Antony Raju; former Kozhikode Mayor Thottathil Raveendran, P.A. Muhammed Riyaz (all-India president of the Democratic Youth Front of India), cine actor M. Mukesh, and media anchor Veena George.

Winners from the UDF include former Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, MLAs V. D. Satheesan, P.T. Thomas, former MLAs A.P. Anil Kumar, former District Congress Committee president Sunny Joseph, and State Congress vice president T. Siddique.

Women’s representation

If the last Assembly had only eight women MLAs, this time too their number has not increased much, despite the attention the issue of women’s representation in the candidate lists of political parties received during the campaign. Ten of the 15 women the LDF fielded emerged victorious. The UDF fielded 10 women candidates, and only one of them, K.K. Rema, of the RMP, managed to win.

Provisional Election Commission data (not including Left-backed Independents) showed that the CPI(M) got 25.38 per cent of the votes, the Congress 25.12 per cent, the BJP 11.3 per cent, the Muslim League 8.3 per cent, the CPI 7.6 per cent, the Kerala Congress(M) 3.28 per cent, the JD(S) 1.28 per cent, the NCP 0.99 per cent, the RSP 1.17 per cent and ‘Others’ 14.9 per cent.

Allegations of vote trading

At his first press meet after the election victory, Pinarayi Vijayan alleged that there was large-scale trading of votes between the BJP and the UDF in this election, and though the total number of voters had increased in all constituencies, “the BJP, which claims itself to be a party that is growing incrementally in Kerala, got fewer votes in as many as 90 constituencies than it did in the 2016 elections”.

The Chief Minister said that such large-scale trading of votes was behind the irrational confidence shown by the UDF until the last minute that it would come to power in Kerala. He said the UDF was able to win in at least 10 constituencies because of the trading of BJP votes. The BJP got fewer votes in two constituencies in Kasargod, five in Kannur, two in Wayanad, nine each in Kozhikode and Malappuram, five in Palakkad, six in Thrissur, 12 in Ernakulam, five in Idukki, six in Alappuzha, nine in Kottayam, five in Pathanamthitta, five in Kollam and ten in Thiruvananthapuram district.
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“But for this trading, the UDF’s fall would have been much greater. There are also signs that the people of Kerala are abandoning the BJP,” the Chief Minister said.

After the election results were announced in 2016, ironically, Kerala had seen celebrations taking place in two opposing political camps. One was indeed the LDF camp, which had taken an uncompromising stand against communalism and corruption and triumphed in that election, winning 91 of the 140 seats. The other was the BJP camp, which had managed to win just a single seat in the Assembly, its first ever in the Kerala Assembly. The UDF got only 47 seats in that election.

This time, indeed, there is celebration only in one camp. The real story of Kerala election 2021 is certainly the total domination of the LDF in the State, not just in the southern and northern districts as was the case in 2016, but in all three regions, including central Kerala, that used to be a traditional UDF stronghold.

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