The BJP's wins in the local body polls make the Assembly elections more interesting

ABC of Kerala politics A ready reckoner of states electoral mix
news Elections 2016 Friday, March 25, 2016 - 17:42

Kerala was the first Indian state to have an elected communist party government, but today, even when the state oscillates between two major coalitions – the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) – this election just might stand out for various reasons.

Unlike many other Indian states, Kerala has not re-elected the incumbent government in the assembly elections for several years.

If it was the Congress-led UDF in 1982 which came to power, the state saw the CPI(M)-led LDF ascend to power in 1987. Similarly, it was the UDF winning a majority in 1991 while going on to lose in 1996 giving way to the LDF.

 

The graph above shows the composition of the Kerala Assembly which has 141 members, of which one member is nominated from the Anglo-Indian community, while the rest are directly elected. The state has nine seats in the Rajya Sabha and 20 seats in the Lok Sabha.

However, this year’s elections are particularly interesting because of the BJP, which although hardly a new entrant, is nonetheless is a contender unlike in the past when it had won any seats in the Assembly.

But, thanks to the BJP and other quirks, this year’s results are not a foregone conclusion.

Traditional strongholds of the major parties and coalitions

 

The two major coalitions and their constituents

UDF

Powered by the Indian National Congress, the UDF is backed by other smaller parties. However, in Kerala, the Congress is more socialist compared to its national avatar in other regions.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, an MLA for the past 46 years, has never lost an election. But this year, he’s contesting against 26-year-old Jaick C Thomas, the CPI(M)’s candidate in Puthupally.

While the veteran politician may not consider a young man a great threat, – Chandy himself was 26 years old when he first contested an election – the Chief Minister faces allegations that he accepted a bribe in the solar scam. The Opposition raised a ruckus over the allegations and there were calls for his resignation.

President of the Congress’ Kerala unit, VM Sudheeran recently caused a stir when he said that politicians should not contest elections after they have won four times. That barb applies to several senior Congress leaders such as KC Joseph, Adoor Prakash, K Babu, Thiruvanjoor and the CM himself. Perhaps there’s more such entertainment in the offing. The elections are in May.

Read: Forget the Communists: can Sudheeran deal with the dinosaurs in his own party?

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is the second largest constituent of the UDF. Led by the late Panakkad Syed Muhammadali Shihab Thangal, IUML became a political force to be reckoned with especially in the northern district of Malappuram which is its undisputed stronghold with the majority of the population there being Muslims.

State education minister PK Abdu Rabb who belongs to the league courted controversy last year by saying that he supported separate benches for boys and girls in colleges.

Next in line all the factions of the Kerala Congress – some of which currently associate with the LDF – derive their primary support from the Syrian Christian communities mostly based in the erstwhile Central Travancore districts of Kottayam, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district.

It is one party which believes in growth by mutation. You can read more the many break-ups and make-ups here.

The most powerful of these is the one headed by KM Mani, who was the finance minister in the Chandy government until the allegations in the bar bribery case forced him to resign.

Another member of the UDF is the Janata Dal (United) led by MP Veerendra Kumar who is also the party’s state president as well as the chairman and managing director of Mathrubhumi – a regional daily newspaper with 15 editions and 10 periodicals.

In spite of having just two MLAs in the state legislative assembly, the Congress gave a Rajya Sabha berth to its ally, thereby letting Veerendra Kumar be elected unopposed to the Upper House for the term starting in April 2016. 

LDF

The Left is particularly strong in the northern districts of Kannur and certain pockets of Kasargod and Kozhikode. Alappuzha and Kollam too have a strong Left base owing to presence of trade unions.

Its student and youth wing –the Students Federation of India (SFI) and the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) - have the backing of large number of the student and youth communities in the state.

Perhaps the only thing that can unite VS Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan Communist Party of India (Marxist) are elections. When not in election Mode, the two senior leaders are busy fighting overt and coverts wars with each other.

Communist Party of India (CPI) is often considered the right within the Left front, and the major fight between the two major left parties is usually over seat-sharing. 

The Janata Dal (Secular) has always been part of the Left front while its parent party Janata Dal (United) aligns with the Congress in the state. Its only claim to fame at present is as an LDF constituent; there’s hardly any political prowess to boast about.

The rest of the LDF allies contribute to the number game and nothing else. These are: 

  • Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
  • Congress (S)
  • Kerala Congress (Scaria Thomas faction)

Outside support

  • Kerala Congress (Balakrishna Pillai faction)
  • Kerala Congress (PC George faction)
  • Kerala Congress (Democratic) led by Francis George
  • Janaathyapathya Samrakshana Samiti (JSS) led by KR Gowri Amma
  • Indian National League (INL); leaders – PMA Salam
  • Forward Bloc; leaders – G Devarajan, K Velappan Nair
  • National Secular Conference led by PTA Rahim
  • Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP-Leninist) led by Kovoor Kunjumon
  • Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP-Left) led by CP Karhtikeyan
  • Communist Marxist Party (CMP) led by KR Aravindakshan
  • CPI(ML) Red Flag led by PC Unnichekkan

 

The BJP

The BJP has never won an Assembly seat in Kerala. This, despite having over 4,500 RSS shakhas and around 70 Hindu organisations functioning in the state. It could only gradually increase its vote share from 6.07% in the 2011 assembly polls to around 18% in the 2015 panchayat polls.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the BJP was gaining ground throughout the country, it could manage only 10.83% of the vote share in God’s Own Country. However, it has been making steady inroads in the local body elections last November.

From just three panchaytas in Kasargod in 2010 to 13 across Kerala todaya, the BJP is slowly expanding its hold especially in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram where it beat the UDF to the third position and in Palakkad where it emerged as the single largest party with 26 seats in last November’s local body polls.

Its prominent leaders are Kummanam Rajasekharan – the party state president who will contest from Vattiyurkaavu, O Rajagopal – the party veteran and former Union minister and Rajya Sabha member who will contest from Nemom, V Muraleedharan and PK Krishnadas – both of whom are former state party presidents who will contest from Kazhakootam and Kattakad respectively in the assembly elections scheduled for May 16.

All the said electoral constituencies are based in Thiruvananthapuram, thereby underscoring the district’s political importance to the BJP.

The BJP has allied with the Bharat Dharma Jana Seva (BDJS) formed by Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) general secretary Vellappally Natesan representing the Ezhava community, a powerful OBC group in the state.

The BJP has plans to put up 100 candidates,while the BDJS will contest from 37 seats in the upcoming state elections. The lists are yet to be finalized.

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