March 16, 2014

KERALA & LOK SABHA 2014


CAN THE LEFT SALVAGE LOST PRIDE?



From Goa, we move on to another tourist destination - God's own country of Kerala. Located on the western coast, the state generally sees a bipolar contest between the Congress and the Left Front. However, if you think that the polls in the southern state that boasts of the highest literacy rate in the country are just about the two main parties, then you are way out of the mark. A lot is at stake here, quite literally. After failing to find any allies in Tamil Nadu, the refusal of KCR to merge his outfit into the INC and an impending rout in Seemandhra, the UPA's hopes are pinned on Karnataka and Kerala if it has to do well south of the Vindhyas. For the Left, the situation is even more precarious. Mamata Bannerjee seems to be getting stronger by the day in its former bastion of Bengal. For the 'Dead Front', I mean Third Front (Link) to even dream of coming to power in New Delhi, the Communist have to win a minimum of 30 seats. In that case, the Reds have to sweep Kerala so as to make up for their losses in the elsewhere.

ISSUES

(1) The Anti-Congress, anti-BJP Front: Kerala is one state where the Left's idea of an alternative front may find many takers. The Congress led UPA government at the Centre has flopped on all issues of national importance. Innumerable corruption scandals and economic slow down has tarnished the image of the country and has dented the credibility of the INC. Secondly, the elevation of Narendra Modi within the ranks of the saffron outfit has polarized the situation to some extent. In Kerala, where nearly 44 percent of the population are non-Hindus, you can expect the comrades to talk about 'Secularism' in their campaign.

(2) Kasturirangan Report on Western Ghats: The Kasturirangan report on the protection of ecological diverse Western ghats identified 123 villages in the state as Ecologically Sensitive Areas. The Ministry of Environment issued a memorandum last November to curb activities in these villages. This has angered Christian farmers who have traditionally voted for the Congress and its ally, the Kerala Congress. The influential Catholic Church too has stepped in, asking the Central government to consider the plight of the farmers. Realizing that the incumbent regime is on the back foot, the UDF has been taking a rather tough stand on this issue, both within the assembly and on the streets too.

(3) Alliance troubles for the Communists: For all, the Leftists have been the strongest advocaters of a federal formation to lead the country. For such an alliance, it is imperative that they have to join hands with nearly 10 to 15 partners across the nation, an art first displayed by Vajpayee which was later perfected by the Congress. However, can the Communists manage to hold their allies together. The political developments in Kerala over the last few days do not suggest so. The LDF received a shock last week when its former ally - the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) joined the UDF after a meeting with CM Ooman Chandy. The move comes after the CPI and the RSP failed to come to a conclusion over who amongst then two will field candidate from the Kollam seat.

CONTENDERS

(1) The United Democratic Front (UDF): The UDF, which is presently ruling in the state is led by the Congress. Unlike last time when it contested 17 of the 20 seats, it has decided to contest two seats less this time around. The INC is so confident of its good performance in the state that it has renominated 11 of its 13 incumbent including the four Union Ministers namely Kodikkunnil Suresh (Mavelikara), K C Venugopal (Alappuzha), K V Thomas (Ernakulam) and Shashi Tharoor (Thiruvananthapuram). Meanwhile, P C Chacko who headed the Joint Parliamentary Committee that looked into the 2G scam has shifted to Chalakkudi due to factionalism in the Thrissur unit of the Congress. Besides, P T Thomas, a close aide of the CM Chandy however, has been denied a ticket from Idukki following pressure from the Church over his remarks in favor of the Kasturirangan report.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has got two seats as per its seat sharing arrangement with the Congress. The Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed will re-contest from Malappuram. Other constituents of the UDF - the Kerala Congress (Mani) and the Socialist Justice Party (SJP) have got one seat each. The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) which grabbed all the eyeballs after its bitter divorce with the LDF has bagged the Kollam seat. On the paper, the UDF is one of the most powerful combinations in the nation today (Link).

(2) The Left Democratic Front (LDF): The Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) is the dominant partner in the LDF. The comrades know how important the Kerala polls are for its political ambitions at the Centre. However, considering the way it is throwing around its weight, it seems that it is bound to doom. It seems that the party is said to contest or support independent candidates in 15 seats. It has left out four seats for the Communist Party of India (CPI). The Janata Dal - Secular (JD-S) is set to contest from the Kottayam seat. Several smaller outfits are upset with the high-handedness of the CPI-M and are likely to damage the prospects of the Left Front. An interesting feature in the party's list is that it has declared support to as many as five independents including former Congressman Philipose Thomas from Pathanamthitta.

(3) Others: The BJP is expected to at least increase its vote share if not win a ticket in Kerala. The saffron outfit has more than a nominal presence in the northern parts of the state, especially the areas bordering Karnataka. Besides, former minister in Vajpayee cabinet, the 85 year old O Rajagopal has been fielded from the state capital. The Aam Admi Party (AAP) too has fielded some strong candidates including writer cum activist Sara Joseph (Thrissur), former IPS Officer Ajit Joy (Thiruvananthapuram) and journalist Anita Pratap (Kochi). What could go against the party are the comments made by senior leader Kumar Vishwas who taken racial digs at nurses from the state.

PAST PERFORMANCES

The below chart shows the performance of various parties in Kerala over the last five big polls. Between 1996 and 1999, the two major players - the INC and the Left Front (CPI-M and CPI) both won an equal number of seats. However, in 2004 it was the Communist who walked away with lion's share of seats. The Congress was humiliated in Kerala even as it dislodged the BJP from power in New Delhi. In 2009, as the Left dropped from 64 to 30 odd seats, the Congress increased its tally to 13 in the state. The comrades could only win only 4 seats. The IUML has been performing well in its stronghold, winning two seats, 4 out of 5 times. The Mani faction of the Kerala Congress to has displayed good consistency winning Kottayam on 4 occasions.

Political Party
20092004199919981996
Congress (INC)
13
-
8
8
7
Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)
2
1
2
2
2
Kerala Congress (Mani)
1
-
1
1
1
Left (CPI-M/CPI)
4
15
8
8
7
Others
-
4
1
1
1

MY PREDICTIONS

In an earlier article I have named the UDF in Kerala as one of the potential game changers in 2014 elections (Link). Even the Times Now and the recently concluded NDTV-Hansa Research Opinion Polls seems to indicate that the Congress and its allies will do exceedingly well. I see a repeat of the 2009 election results this time around too. The UDF may drop a couple of seats to finish at 12-14 seats whereas the remaining will go the Red's kitty.

Political Party
Expected Seats
1
UDF (INC/IUML/KC(M)/SJP/RSP)
12-14
2
LDF (CPI-M/CPI/JD-S)
6-8
3
Others
0-1

WATCH OUT

(1) The fight for Thiruvananthapuram: While he may have in the news for all the wrong reasons including the death of his wife Sunanada Pushkar last month, the Congress has stuck with its Minister and former UN official Shashi Tharoor from the state capital. However, the fight is not going to be easy this time around. The many controversies have led to bad press. At the same time, BJP's Rajagopal too is expected to perform well. The urban voters who seem to be attracted to Narendra Modi may vote for him. Ajit Joy from the AAP is also in the fray. It will be interesting to see who will win from here.

(2) Can the saffron outfit make its debut? The BJP has a good chance to open its account in the state. The BJP seems to be strong in north and in the capital. However, can it translate into seat(s) is the big question. Earlier whenever the party seemed to be strong, the Congress and the Left would enter into a secret pact where either of the two would field a weak candidate as to prevent the division of votes. However, it seems as if no such 'sinister deals' have been made this time around as both Fronts have gone full throttle to maximize their gains. This is the opportunity for the saffronists to make their mark in state politics.

For more posts in this series:
(1) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)