Anti-incumbency has been the critical factor in assembly elections in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. No political party or coalition, except once in 1977, has won back-to-back elections in Kerala. That’s been the story in Tamil Nadu as well since 1989. This feature of the states’ political history ought to have made guessing the outcomes in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which voted on Monday, relatively easier. But few political analysts want to hazard a guess this time due to the emergence of a third force in these states. The formation of the Bharat Dharma Jena Sena (BDJS) and its alliance with the BJP have introduced an element of uncertainty in the Kerala election while the fragmentation of the political space could influence the outcome in Tamil Nadu. Besides the two Dravidian majors, the AIADMK and the DMK, which have alternated in power, there are at least three distinct entities in the fray, turning every contest multi-cornered in Tamil Nadu.
Interestingly, the outliers are in no position to gain office on their own, or even win many seats in both states. But they are likely to grab crucial votes that may spoil the plans of the major parties. For instance, the BJP-BDJS alliance is counted as influential in nearly one-third of Kerala’s 140 assembly constituencies. Since the contests in Kerala are close and the winning margin, barring in some seats in the northern region, barely a few thousand votes, a third force could swing the results in unexpected ways. In Tamil Nadu, the People’s Welfare Front of the DMDK, Vaiko, the VCK and the communists and the PMK may cut the votes of both the DMK and the AIADMK. A similar factor is at work in West Bengal as well, where the BJP had emerged as an influential force outside the sphere of influence of the Trinamool and the Left. However, its vote share, which had reached 18 per cent in the 2014 general election, is predicted to decline in this election, which has turned into a tight contest between the Trinamool and the Left-Congress jot. Here, the question is: Who stands to gain from the vote outflow?
Competition is good for electoral democracy and the entry of new forces is likely to force the established players to shed complacency. The heavy polling in Tamil Nadu and Kerala indicates that voters, too, have been drawn into the excitement.