As Kerala witnessed a clean Congress-UDF sweep in the Lok Sabha polls, a host of factors, including the presence of Rahul Gandhi, minority consolidation and the alleged poor handling of the Sabarimala issue by the LDF government, seems to have helped the front. Giving a rude shock to the Pinarayi Vijayan government, the opposition UDF surprisingly won 19 out of the total 20 seats with a victory margin of at least one lakh votes in 10 constituencies.
The LDF, which had to be satisfied with the lone seat of Alapuzha, where A M Ariff won by around 10,000 votes, faced further embarrassment as its traditional bastions –Alathur, Palakkad, Attingal and Kasaragod were wrested by the UDF. The CPI(M)-led LDF leaders, including Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan had exuded confidence till the eve of the vote counting that the Front could repeat its 2004 LS poll results, in which they had won 18 of the 20 seats. But when the votes were counted, the LDF suffered one of its biggest election debacles in the recent history in Kerala as 19 of its candidates bit the dust in the Congress-UDF wave.
In the 2014 LS polls, the LDF had won eight seats against UDF’s 12. According to political observors, the consolidation of minority votes in favour of the Congress across the state was one of the main reasons for the massive victory. Both the ruling LDF and the opposition UDF had competed with each other throughout the campaign to inculcate a “Modi phobia” and trigger “anti-BJP” sentiments among minority voters. But it seems that minorities had largely favoured the UDF out of an expectation that the Congress might come to power at the Centre defeating the BJP-NDA government, they said.
The candidature of AICC chief Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad, who was projected as UPA’s Prime Ministerial candidtate, also helped in mass consolidation of the minority votes -especially of the Muslim community- in the Malabar (north Kerala) region. The most surprising factor is that the votes of the majority Hindu community in the state also seems to have consolidated this time, which is said to be rare.
The Sabarimala agitation, which Kerala witnessed last year against the implementation of the apex court verdict permitting women of menstrual age at the Lord Ayyappa Temple, seems to have led to the consolidation of majority community votes against the Left government. The adamant stand taken by the Chief Minister in implementing the September 28 verdict is considered to have impacted badly in the poll results, political observors said.
The BJP, which had spearheaded the agitations, had tried to capitalise the emotions of devotees and expected that they could open their maiden LS account in the state this time riding on the Sabarimala issue. But the saffron party failed to win any seat despite their vote share going up. The whopping votes garnered by UDF candidates in many constituencies indicate that the Congress has reaped the benefits of the Sabarimala issue. The ruling LDF had a drastic drain of votes even in its strongholds and the dip in the traditional votes indicates that even the party cadres were unhappy over the way the government handled the temple issue. Critics also point fingers at the back-to-back political killings allegedly involving Left leaders, the alleged poor handling of the August floods and Pinarayi Vijayan’s style of functioning as the reason for LDF’s poor show in the crucial Lok Sabha polls.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said Friday that the vote difference between the UDF and the LDF has shot up to 12 per cent, which normally used to be one or two per cent. According to him, three factors had led to the landslide victory of UDF in Kerala. “The first one is the step-motherly attitude of the Narendra Modi government and the anti-Modi wave. The second one is the three-year-long misrule of the LDF government and the third is the Rahul wave in the state after he decided to contest from Kerala,” he told reporters here. On Sabarimala, Chennithala said the Vijayan government gave fodder to the communal elements to “destroy” the democratic parties.
Despite the BJP-NDA failing to win even a single seat, party state president P S Sreedharan Pillai claimed that the saffron front had increased its vote share from 10 to 16 per cent and that the results were “not disappointing”. “Sabarimala is our soul. It is not a political issue and we will support anyone who is fighting for the rights of the devotees. The BJP has never tried to exploit the issue”.
Asked if BJP candidate Kummanam Rajasekharan had lost in Thiruvananthapuram due to cross voting, Pillai said it was the “biggest lie” of the century. Meanwhile, senior CPI leader K Divakaran, who lost to former union minister Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthpuram Lok sabha constituency and came third, said his party and front needed to to self introspect on the reasons for the poll debacle. The Sabarimala issue, was not the only reason for the front’s defeat, he said, adding the BJP, which had spearheaded the Sabarimala protests, had “miserably failed” in the election.