Kerala Assembly Elections: Can Rahul Gandhi turn the tide for Congress-led UDF?

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Updated: Mar 30, 2021 4:15 PM

In Lok Sabha polls held in 2019, the Congress-led UDF swept the state by winning 19 of 20 parliamentary seats. The Congress alone got 15 seats, highest for the party from any single state — its total tally in parliament is 52.

Rahul Gandhi in Kerala

Kerala Assembly Elections 2021: Of the five states going to polls in over a month, the Congress has the best chance of winning at least one on its own and three with allies. Even as part of an alliance, the Congress is a dominant force in Assam and Kerala. While surveys predict an edge for BJP in Assam and the incumbent Left government in Kerala, Rahul Gandhi has his best chance to deliver in the coastal state by defeating the Left-led LDF headed by Pinarayi Vijayan. Despite predictions to the contrary, the Congress is very much in the game and Gandhi can turn the tide if he manages to do what he did in 2019.

Rahul’s decision to contest from Wayanad in the Lok Sabha polls was a strategic move that could bear fruit in this assembly election. When Gandhi left his traditional family bastion Amethi to contest from Wayanad, many said that it was a well thought-out move to consolidate Congress presence in down south. That analysis may not be off the mark. A recent survey suggests Rahul Gandhi is hugely popular in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. He is the preferred choice for prime minister for 43 per cent people in Tamil Nadu and 58 per cent people in Kerala.

In Lok Sabha polls held in 2019, the Congress-led UDF swept the state by winning 19 of 20 parliamentary seats. The Congress alone got 15 seats, highest for the party from any single state — its total tally in parliament is 52. In this poll, the grand old party got 37.46 per cent votes while the Left got nearly 26 per cent. Rahul Gandhi himself had won from Wayand by over 4.30 lakh votes, cornering nearly 65 per cent votes. In Kerala, the Congress has almost everything needed to win an election — from a face who could be the chief minister to minority votes to absence of the BJP. The state has about 45 per cent minority votes, enough to tilt the balance if they vote in blocks.

Kerala is one state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has struggled to expand its footprint, and that leaves the ground open for the Congress to even capitalise on Hindu centric issues like Sabarimala. Even the Left leaders now feel that the Sabarimala incident could have been handled better and women should not have been allowed inside the temple. The Congress here did play its part by appealing to the chief minister to move with caution and maintain the age-old tradition. On this, the people’s sentiments are with the Congress but how much of it converts into votes actually depends on how the party crafts its political messaging.

The other issue that the Congress can take up against the ruling dispensation is its alleged involvement in the gold smuggling scandal in which the trail leads all the way up to the chief minister’s office. Vijayan’s private secretary M Sivasankar’s alleged involvement makes this a fit case for any party to put the chief minister on the backfoot.

Rahul Gandhi has been making frequent visits to Kerala knowing fully well that his party can wrest power from the Left. But there are contradictions that might come in his way. The Congress is fighting the Left in Kerala but is in alliance with the same party in Bengal. This might not convince the fence-sitters whose minds may be boggled at the level of duality displayed in full public glare, leaving even the pretence of commitment to an ideology in politics. This also doesn’t go down well with those who like to remove the incumbent and place their bid on the winning side. This aside, the Congress is also facing spectre of factionalism in the state unit, and just days ago a very senior leader PC Chacko brought it into the open and resigned from the party saying it was a sinking ship.

An opinion poll by Times Now-C Voter predicts return of Pinarayi Vijayan with a comfortable majority. The survey shows that the Left-led LDF can win 78-86 seats while Congress-led UDF can secure 52-60 of 140 seats with vote share largely the same as it was in the last elections. In 2016, the LDF had won 91 while the Congress bagged 47. The Left has lost some ground since then but not enough, as per the survey, that gives some hope to Congress. Last year’s local body polls reinforced the Left’s command in the state. In this election, the ruling coalition won 514 of 941 gram panchayats while Congress-led UDF could win 321, 44 less than what it had got in 2015. In block panchayats, the LDF emerged victorious in 108 while UDF in just 38. Both were close in municipalities where 43 went to LDF and 41 to UDF. The Left, however, won 5 corporations while Congress had to settle at just 1.

Despite these numbers stacked heavily against the Congress, Rahul Gandhi and his party leaders see a chance of winning back Kerala. But can Rahul deliver is the question among the minds of his supporters and detractors (read G-23) who may be keenly watching the developments in the coastal state. A positive outcome in Kerala will be a feather in Rahul Gandhi’s hat which, besides other things, could make his return as Congress president honourable.

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