An intense two-month long election campaign in poll-bound Kerala draws to an end on Saturday with the state now hovering on the brink of a major political upheaval.
For the first time in its electoral history, the state is all set to witness a triangular battle with the BJP-led NDA going all out to open its maiden account at the expense of the Congress-led UDF and the CPI(M)-led LDF.
Around 2.61crore registered voters are expected to cast their vote on Monday to elect 140 MLAs from a total of 1203 candidates in the fray, out of whom 109 are women.
Of these, 782 are independents and not affiliated to any known political party in the state, with former UDF whip PC George being one of the prominent ones. The CPI(M) has put up 85 candidates this time while the Congress will contest in 87 seats with the BJP investing in the maximum number -98. The rest of the seats are divided among their respective allies.
The campaigning also saw an unprecedented number of national leaders and celebrities landing in Kerala to garner support for the various political parties. While almost all opinion polls gave the Left an edge over their rivals in the beginning, as the polls draw near, it has now boiled down to an almost neck-to-neck race with any of the two fronts deemed capable of grabbing the top spot.
While initially the Left tried to draw mileage out of the solar and the bar bribery scams, it later sought to project itself as the chosen one who would set all things right. Meanwhile, for the incumbent UDF, it was about getting the voters to focus on continuity in the stateās development as a whole. The BJP rode on a promised āchangeā wave that looked to save the long-suffering Keralites from over half a century of misrule by both fronts. Analysts have predicted that the BJP may not have any major breakthroughs, but NDA will eat into the vote bank of the other two fronts, and quite significantly in some constituencies.
Online campaigning was another novel feature in the run-up to the polls with top leaders often clashing on Facebook or Twitter over various issues. Irrespective of political affiliations, veteran leaders like VS Achuthanandan, Pinarayi Vijayan, Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala, Kummanam Rajashekaran among others took to social media to air their views on a current socio-political topic of debate or to single out someone over alleged political omissions or commissions.
With Prime Minister Modi coming onto the scene with his āSomalianā analogy, it then turned into an online war with #PoMoneModi and the counter #pomonechandy hashtags trending online.
Chief Minister Chandy even managed to get into a very public online spat with Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj over the return of Malayalis from strife-torn Libya.
Memes and trolls worked overtime, their work made easier with quite a few celebrities which includes media personalities like Sebastian Paul, Nikesh Kumar and Veena George and film actors like Mukesh, Jagadeesh, Bheeman Raghu too stepping into the electoral fray as candidates this time around. Cricketer Sreesanth who popped up as a surprise BJP entry -as usual- managed to entertain one and all with his verbal bloopers
Party or Front hopping too was very much evident with former minister KB Ganesh Kumar opting to jump from the UDF to the LDF while K Surendran Pillai from the Nemom constituency in Thiruvananthapuram did vice versa.
But the voters will now have to wait till May 19 to know who will have the last laugh!