As the numbers kept trickling in, and it became evident that the UDF had been badly thrashed at the polls, Oommen Chandy came forward to speak to the media. Other than the usual rhetoric of ‘we accept the verdict’, Chandy added that the UDF had been successful at keeping the BJP at bay. The numbers however, tell a different story.
In the run up to the elections, a controversy erupted over Modi’s comparison of Kerala’s tribal infant mortality rate with that of Somalia. The social media savvy segment of the state’s deeply political population responded with #PomoneModi hashtag, meaning ‘Go (away) boy Modi’. A section of people said that Modi that spelled the death-kneel of the party with these remarks.
But it seems the comment has not done any great damage to the BJP as far from keeping the saffron party at bay as Chandy states, Kerala’s voters had actually made NDA a third front to reckon with.
The BJP and its ally BDJS’ came third in almost every constituency, second in a few and got 14.4% of the total vote share.
In around 50 constituencies, the votes polled by the BJP has gone up significantly, and in many cases it has doubled, tripled or even risen by over 10 times, in comparison with the 2011 election.
BJP's gains are astounding in Malampuzha constituency in Palakkad. While CPI(M) veteran VS Achutanandan won from this seat with 73,299 votes, BJP candidate C Krishnakumar came second with 46,157 votes. In 2011, the BJP's alliance partner JDU had polled just a little above 2,000 votes from the constituency.
In Thiruvanathapuram cricketer S Sreesanth obtained 37,764 votes whereas the 2011 candidate had polled just 11,503. This is a three-fold increase. He also came in third, with a defeat margin of just about 1,000 votes.
But in constituencies such as Chirayankeezhu (Thiruvananthapuram district) for instance the numbers have shot up by nearly 10 times. In 2016, the BJP polled 19478 votes when the same figure for 2011 was a mere 2077 votes. The margin was a little lower in Nedumangad (also in the same district) where the BJP’s share of the votes rose by nearly six times from the previous election.
In Chavara and Kunnathur seats (Kollam) district, the vote share rose by five times and three times respectively. In Chathannur (also in Kollam), which the LDF won, the BJP was the runner up with half the votes that the winning candidate polled. The NDA’s BB Gopakumar obtained 33,199 votes but the 2011 candidate had won just 3,824, an increase of nearly nine times.
In several other constituencies including Vattiyoorkavu which the BJP’s Kerala state president contested from, the NDA came second. In several others, the BJP or its ally the BDJS came a close third. This phenomenon has been observed in several districts across the state with no coherent pattern.
Despite the overt position that politicians have stated, there appears to be some awareness even among the general public that the BJP’s vote share has gone up. One indication of this is a message that’s been doing the rounds on social media which warns people not to take the election lightly and urges that the BJP needs to be stopped.
In the months before the election was announced it was evident that the BJP was attempting to cobble up an alliance with social and political – but mostly ‘Hindu’ – forces in the state. Back then, there was a palpable reluctance to openly align with the BJP. The Nair Service Society was almost scandalized at the idea of throwing its weight behind a political party. The SNDP too, which eventually joined the NDA, took several months to openly join the BJP even though its leader Vellapally Natesan was seen rubbing shoulders with top BJP and VHP leaders at social and religious programmes.
Now however, with the electoral waters tested and the results of the BJP and NDA’s performance for all to see, the fence-sitters can choose. There is a possibility that in the next election, that Natesan’s political party – the BDJS – may not be the only party in the NDA. Given time, strategy and the possible influence of unforeseen events and circumstances, more organizations could join in, ushering in a new era of politics for the state which has hitherto only oscillated between the UDF and the Left.