Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998
R. KRISHNAKUMAR

Total seats 20Congress(I) 8CPM 6CPI 2KCM 1MUL 2RSP 1

KERALA delivered a curious election verdict. By giving the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) 11 seats, one more than its 1996 tally, the State appeared to favour the Congress(I)-led coalition. The impressive performance, however, was that of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), though its score was reduced to nine of the total 20 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

At the Congress(I) rally in Thiruvananthapuram on February 23, Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul with former Chief Ministers K. Karunakaran and A.K. Antony.-C. RATHEESH KUMAR

The UDF did make some significant gains: it regained the three major constituencies: Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kozhikode, and increased its margin of victory in the Muslim League strongholds of Ponnani and Manjeri, and in the Kerala Congress (Mani group) stronghold of Moovattupuzha.

In Thiruvananthapuram, Congress(I) leader and former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran defeated CPI leader K.V. Surendranath by 15,398 votes. In Kozhikode, the lesser-known DCC(I) president P. Sankaran defeated Union Minister M.P. Veerendra Kumar by 18,276 votes. In Ernakulam, member of the dissolved Lok Sabha and CPI(M) independent Sebastian Paul lost to Congress(I) MLA George Eden by 74,508 votes. Former MP and Congress leader V.M. Sudheeran retained Alappuzha with a respectable margin of 40,637 votes.

Impressive as these gains may seem, the correct picture of the electoral gains emerges only when the results in Adoor, Mavelikkara, Kottayam, Idukki, Mukundapuram and Kannur are considered. The Congress(I) had won these seats with huge margins in the past in at least three elections.

The LDF staged sensational victories in Kottayam and Adoor. In Kottayam, which has a huge Christian population, CPI(M) candidate Suresh Kurup defeated AICC(I) joint secretary Ramesh Chennithala by 5,446 votes. Ramesh Chennithala had won in Kottayam in the past three elections. In the Adoor (S.C.) constituency, another three-time MP Kodikkunnil Suresh, was defeated by CPI newcomer Chengara Surendran by 17,005 votes. In Mavelikkara, considered a safe seat for the Congress(I), its well-entrenched candidate P.J. Kurien, narrowly escaped defeat at the hands of independent candidate Prof.Ninan Koshy, who was handpicked by the CPI(M). Kurien's margin, 1,261 votes, is his lowest ever.

Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar voting in Thiruvananthapuram on February 28.-C. RATHEESH KUMAR

Similarly, in Mukundapuram, CPI(M) candidate P. Govinda Pillai lost by a mere 8,949 votes to former Congress(I) MP (from Idukki) A.C. Jose. In Idukki, high-profile Congress(I) MP in the previous Lok Sabha P.C. Chacko scraped through by a margin of 6,350 votes. In Kannur, in north Kerala, the Congress(I)'s Mullappally Ramachand- ran, who contested against State Health Minister and Congress(S) candidate A.C. Shanmukhadas, had his victory margin narrowed from 39,000 in the previous election to 2,180. In addition to Adoor and Kottayam, four seats which were considered among the "safest" by the UDF, could have easily slipped into the LDF kitty.

In contrast, the CPI(M) and its allies retained seven seats, maintaining their victory margins above 17,000 votes. In Kottayam, a Congress(I) bastion, and Chirayinkeezhu, where the battles were closely fought, the CPI(M)'s victory margins were, however, low - 5,446 and 7,542 votes respectively.

In the byelections to the Assembly constituencies of Chathannur in Kollam district, Vaikkom in Kottayam district and Mala in Thrissur district, the CPI retained all the three seats.

The significance of the LDF's performance must be viewed in the context of the electorate's traditional preference for candidates of the Congress(I) or its allies in parliamentary elections. Barring a few occasions, Kerala has sent more UDF members to the Lok Sabha, even when the voters gave the LDF a clear majority in the Assembly elections. The UDF won 17 in 1984, 17 again in 1989 and 16 seats in 1991. In 1996, even when the Congress(I) and its allies faced the electorate as a divided and discredited lot, the UDF got 10 seats.

CPI(M) leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad voting in Thiruvananthapuram on February 28.-C. RATHEESH KUMAR

The fact that the LDF has been able to win nine seats this time and scare the wits out of the Congress(I) in four other constituencies indicates that the verdict was loud and clear.

However, the results seem to confirm some trends that should cause worry to both the fronts. In almost all the constituencies, the decline in the percentage of votes polled by one front did not result in a corresponding gain by the other. In short, the number of voters who preferred not to vote for either Front has been increasing in every election.

More alarming for the two coalitions is the fact that the BJP, which is still far from a position of winning at least one Assembly seat in Kerala, has been increasing its vote share in almost all the constituencies.

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