Kerala's long history of 'cross voting' and why it is unlikely in 2021

TNM here weighs the possibilities of cross voting, a word which is at the centre of recent political controversies, in the 2021 Kerala Assembly polls.
Voters standing inside polling station
Voters standing inside polling station
Written by:

This Kerala election has witnessed one political revelation after another. To begin with, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) first MLA in the state, O Rajagopal, who said in an interview that in the past Congress voters have cross voted for the BJP and vice versa. Then it was BJP and RSS leader R Balashankar who surprised the state with his statement that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) had struck a deal with the BJP to deny him a seat. The latest to join the list is BJP leader CK Padmanabhan, who in an audio clip, can be heard saying that Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader PK Kunhalikutty and late Kerala Congress (M) founder KM Mani, took part in meetings with the BJP to allegedly fix the 2001 election.

Though all these statements have been countered and rubbished by various parties, cross voting is probably the worst kept secret in Kerala politics.

Cross voting is when voters affiliated to a party vote for a candidate from another party, to ensure that a third candidate — who they see as their main rival — does not win. Sort of an enemy’s enemy is a friend concept. Over the last few elections, many such secretive operations by political parties have been reported. Insiders in many parties TNM spoke to say that such cross voting is limited to registered party workers and their families. Notably, in most of the cases, there is no direct involvement of top political leaders, or if there is, it would be kept tightly under the wraps.

“A few families, amounting to maybe a few hundred voters, will be told to cross vote. Mostly there will be murmur campaigns,” a senior journalist who has covered the state's politics for more than three decades said.  Cross voting often does not entail a large number of voters, but only a select few hundred, and is handled by local leadership. Only in rare cases have political leaders been accused of tipping the scales in a significant way.

Kerala politicians even use the term ‘Co-Le-B’, to define the covert cross voting ‘understanding’ between the Congress, IUML, and BJP.

Though Kerala has witnessed many instances of cross voting in the past, many political observers who TNM spoke to believe that this election will be very different, and that there is hardly any possibility of cross voting, other than perhaps in two or three constituencies.

The primary reason why many —  both political leaders and analysts —  believe cross voting will not happen at a significant scale is because the political scenario in Kerala is quite vitiated. Both the BJP and the Congress-led UDF (United Democratic Front) have been openly up in arms against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and this will make the Left stay away from any possible ‘adjustments’.

Over the years, it’s primarily the BJP votes that have flown mainly to the UDF, but even that will be curbed this time. With BJP leaders Amit Shah and JP Nadda making it clear that Kerala was in their list for future ‘takeovers’, the BJP wants to increase its vote share in every seat and manage to win a few.

In fact, to ensure that its voters do not cross vote, the BJP has started online campaigns explaining the party’s present stature and growth in electoral politics. One viral forward addressed to BJP supporters says that the BJP’s votes should remain with the party and no one should help candidates of other fronts.

“We have not been hearing of cross voting possibilities, however, leaders can make such appeals in the last minute to their counterparts in other parties. It is only from two or three seats that we have heard some murmur about such possibilities,” another journalist said. Others TNM spoke to also pointed at three constituencies — Manjeshwar, Palakkad and Malappuram.

At Kasaragod’s Manjeshwar, the fight is primarily between the BJP and the IUML. Though the BJP has never won the constituency, Manjeshwar is the party’s stronghold as is the IUML’s. Since 1987, the BJP has held the second position here, while considerably increasing its vote share every election. Many on the ground say that with the intention of defeating the BJP, LDF (Left Democratic Front) supporters have voted for IUML in the past and this could happen this time too, to keep BJP President Surendran at bay.

Read our ground report from Manjeshwar.

Meanwhile, in Palakkad that is witnessing a polarisation due to the candidature of Metro Man E Sreedharan against incumbent Congress MLA Shafi Parambil, there are murmurs that some secular voters who opted for the CPI(M), may instead vote for Shafi this time. However, many who know how the CPI(M) works, point out that the party is unlikely to encourage any cross voting as Shafi is a Congress face that the CPI(M) detests.

In the IUML’s stronghold Malappuram, there is speculation that votes from the Welfare Party of India (WPI), part of the Jamaat-e-Islami, might go to the former. Though the WPI has fielded candidates from 19 constituencies in Malappuram and Kozhikode, experts opine that most are namesake candidates. This cross voting is expected to help the UDF, of which the IUML is a part.

Recently, actor and BJP’s Thrissur candidate Suresh Gopi, said in an interview that in Guruvayoor, a constituency where the BJP candidate’s nomination got rejected, the party would support the UDF.  The IUML’s KNA Khader is contesting from Guruvayoor for the UDF.

Suresh Gopi also remarked that the BJP strongly wishes for the defeat of AN Shamseer, sitting MLA of CPI(M) from Thalassery, another constituency where the NDA does not have a candidate. This has spurred reports that Thalassery BJP will support COT Naseer, a CPI(M) rebel who quit the party in 2019 and is contesting as an independent.

The BJP party president K Surendran has dismissed comments made by fellow partymen Rajagopal, Suresh Gopi and Balashankar. However, the CPI(M) has highlighted this in their campaign, and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan came out saying these revelations were not a slip of the tongue and had exposed the BJP’s deal with the UDF.

Meanwhile in Ernakulam’s Tripunithura, Congress candidate and former Minister K Babu remarked that votes which went to the BJP last time, would come back to him this time around. As his rival and sitting CPI(M) MLA M Swaraj pointed at a conspiracy, Babu was quick to clarify and said that he was talking about ‘apolitical’ votes that went to the BJP.

Past and present cross voting allegations

It was O Rajagopal, senior leader of the BJP in Kerala and the party’s lone MLA in the state, who raised the most notable allegations after the 2021 Assembly polls were announced. He stated that there have been past instances of ‘adjustments’ between the Congress, IUML and BJP. And this, Rajagopal said, was to take down the common ‘enemy’ CPI(M).

Another famous cross voting story from Kerala is from the 1991 Assembly elections. In 2016, this was revealed by Cherian Philip, a former Congress leader who is presently with the CPI(M).

Cherian Philip alleged that the UDF had a pact with the BJP and that it was the Congress’s Aryadan Muhammad who had pressed the front for it. Cherian Philip, who was the then Secretary of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, said that Congress’s top leader K Karunakaran had implemented the plan with the help of the IUML.

As per the plan, Karunakaran allegedly promised to help BJP candidates KG Marar and K Raman Pillai to win from Manjeshwar and Thiruvananthapuram East respectively. In turn, the BJP offered that it will vote for the UDF in almost 60 constituencies where the margin between the LDF and UDF was minimal. However, to the BJP’s dismay, the consensus reached in the top level was not followed at the local level and BJP candidates lost in both places.

Incidentally, former Defence Minister AK Antony was the then KPCC (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee) President, while BJP’s O Rajagopal was the National Vice-President of the party. Cherian Philip’s allegation, which he made through a Facebook post, went viral in 2016, and is in fact in tune with the recent allegation made by O Rajagopal about Co-Le-B.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute