A few months ahead of the Assembly elections, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front scores an emphatic victory in Kerala’s local body elections

Published : December 16, 2020 21:45 IST

Left Democratic Front (LDF) supporters celebrate the front’s win in the local body elections, in Kochi, Kerala, on December 16 Photo: Vibhu H.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) supporters prepare to celebrate the party’s win in the local body elections, in Kochi, Kerala, on December 16. Photo: R.S. Iyer/AP

The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) has won a sparkling victory in the local body elections in Kerala, winning in at least 514 of the total 941 grama panchayats, 108 out of 152 block panchayats, 11 out of the 14 district panchayats, 35 out of the 86 municipalities and three of the six corporations.

The LDF won hands down in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Kozhikode corporations, and led the other fronts (but failed to get a clear majority) in Kochi and Thrissur corporations.

The main opposition, Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), which had been so upbeat about the likely impact of its vicious pre-election political campaign against the LDF government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, ended up winning just 375 grama panchayats, 44 block panchayats, three district panchayats and one of the six corporations. Its only consolation was that it won 45 of the 86 municipalities.

 

The BJP-led NDA alliance, which had turned out its best ever political effort against the LDF Government, could not fulfil its main objective of winning the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, where it had come second in the elections held in 2015. This time too, the party could win only the second place, with 34 seats, as against the 35 it had won last time. However, the LDF increased its tally from 40 to 51, winning a majority on its own in the Corporation council, to the utter disappointment of the UDF, which could win just 10 of the 100 seats.

Elsewhere in the State, the BJP, which had all along been struggling to break the dominance of the two prominent coalitions, and had managed some decent electoral gains at the local level in the 2015 elections, could win a majority only in two municipalities this time: Palakkad, where it retained its rule, and Pandalam, down south, a major centre of the Sabarimala agitation, where it posted a surprising victory this time.

The party also registered a comparatively better performance in the grama panchayats, winning 23 of the 941 grassroot panchayats as against 14 it had won in 2015.

In brief, despite the ruckus it had made against the LDF Government, the BJP and its six-party coalition, has ended up with very little of the spoils to match its pre-election posturing.

At the same time, central Kerala, especially the traditional UDF stronghold districts of Kottayam, Pathnamthitta and Idukki, witnessed unprecedented gains for the ruling LDF, a sign that its strategy of including the Kerala Congress faction led by Jose K. Mani in its fold has paid it rich dividends.

For the first time in its 68-year-history, Pala municipality, a stronghold of the Kerala Congress veteran K.M. Mani until his death a few years ago, for instance, was won by the LDF with the help of his son, Jose K. Mani. It has also turned out to be an election where at least for now, the Jose Mani faction has had an upper hand in its bitter feud with the faction led by veteran Kerala Congress leader, P.J. Joseph, which has remained in the UDF.

Jopseph’ s Kerala’ Congress and the UDF which supported it throughout suffered defeats even in the former’s stronghold local bodies in Idukki district, especially in Todupuzha municipality, Joseph’s home turf.

Despite its intense anti-government campaigns, the UDF found its hopes being dashed in almost all districts of the State, except perhaps in Wayanad, and the Muslim League stronghold, Malappuram district. Its poor performance in the three-tier panchayats is a worrying sign of its weakening base, especially when the Assembly elections are due in about four months. The ruling LDF has got a major share of the seats in the village, block and district panchayats. The UDF could register a clear victory only in Kannur Corporation.

The elections to the district panchayats, which are by tradition reckoned as a sign of which way the State thinks politically, has gone completely against the UDF, with the LDF wresting Idukki, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Kasargod district bodies, which were among the seven district panchayats the UDF had won in 2015.

The LDF’s triumph is sweeter for the CPI(M)-led coalition, because both the UDF and the BJP had tried to sway the election-eve political discourse in Kerala with allegations relating to the gold smuggling controversy and corruption charges against some Ministers and officials _ and keeping the people’s attention away from the governance and development record that had won the movernment many accolades ever since it came to power.

But Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had insisted that anybody who had experienced life in Kerala at this critical juncture would not abandon his government. Indeed, among its major achievements were the way it handled the unprecedented floods in two consecutive years, and the COVID-19 pandemic, by keeping the pandemic’s spread at bay for several months, by ensuring free supply of provisions to all ration card holders, distributing welfare pension and opening free community kitchen to all those who needed it, during the critical months, and elsewhere, by distributing houses to 2.5 lakh people under the project named Life Mission, and through the visible changes it brought about in the Health and Education sectors in the State.

Given such a credible record of the LDF government, the effort to cloud people’s judgement through allegations has clearly not worked as intended by the Fronts in the Opposition led by the Congress and the BJP. Significantly, the campaigns and allegations raised by them, almost in unison as it were, seem to have benefited the BJP more, if at all.

It is also an election that proved to the UDF that it went totally off the mark, by deciding to show the door to the Jose K. Mani faction of the Kerala Congress and trying its fortunes with the Joseph faction. Instead, the LDF’s strategy of giving space to many such outfits that left the UDF, including the Loktantric Janata Dal (LJD) and Indian National League (INL), in addition to the Kerala Congress led by Jose K.Mani, has proved more prudent in a State where victory margins are almost always quite narrow.

A significant new phenomenon in the State is the victory of a non-political organisation called ‘Kizhakkambalam Twenty-Tenty’, in all four panchayats in Ernakulam district where it had fielded candidates against the candidates of the three established Fronts. The organisation was floated at the time of the 2015 local body elections with the aim of turning Kizhakkambalam into a model village, and seemingly succeeding in keeping the promises it made to the people.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the result of the local body election “is the answer given by those who love Kerala against those who try to destroy the State and its achievements. .The State has given an appropriate response to middlemen and those who raise false allegations. The UDF is becoming irrelevant in Kerala. The BJP’s claims have once again been demolished.”

Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala said that “the claim that the people of Kerala has whitewashed the corruption and loot indulged by the LDF Government is a disgraceful one and a challenge to the people who voted in this election.” He said the people’s sentiments against the LDF government did not find reflection in the elections to the local bodies, which are almost always decided on local issues. “In all local body elections, except in 2010, the LDF had gained an upper hand in Kerala. But the real reflection of people’s sentiment was in the last Lok Sabha elections, when the UDF won 19 of the 20 seats in Kerala,” he said.

Ramesh also said the UDF will intensify its agitations against the LDF government in the coming days.

To the BJP State president, K. Surendran, however, the election results were but “a reflection of the understanding between the LDF and the UDF not to allow a BJP victory at all costs.”

The CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said in a tweet: "Kerala has strongly rebuffed the negative campaign by the Congress-led UDF and the BJP of levelling baseless allegations against the LDF government and its leadership, backed by sections of the right-wing media and the unscrupulous use of Central agencies by the BJP at the Centre.”

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