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How 'captain' Pinarayi Vijayan led LDF to historic win in Kerala

Vijayan consolidated the image of the party as a forward-looking, reform-oriented and no-nonsense administration through multiple crises. A weakened, divided opposition helped the party.

May 02, 2021 / 05:27 PM IST
Kerala Election Results 2021: Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. (File image)

Kerala Election Results 2021: Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. (File image)

Traditionally, Kerala never elects a ruling party to power. After every five-year term, the state ends up choosing an alternative front (between the Left Democratic Front, LDF or the United Democratic Front, UDF). The last time when there was a departure from this pattern was four decades ago. The third-front, the BJP-led National Democratic Front (NDA), has never been a major factor in the state’s bipolar political landscape.

But, this time, the LDF has changed the script in a dramatic manner. Under the leadership of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the left front has bagged a record win rewriting the history of four decades with a stellar performance bettering even its 2016 performance.

Follow our LIVE blog for the latest updates of the 2021 Kerala assembly election result

At the time of writing this copy, the LDF was leading in 100 out of 140 constituencies, far ahead of its close rival UDF, which was leading in 40 constituencies. Meanwhile, the NDA is ending the day with zero tally. The BJP was expecting at least two seats in Kerala--Palakkad (E Sreedharan) and Thrissur (Suresh Gopi). Congress, which was hoping to return to power riding on anti-incumbency, is likely to have fallen below even the 2016 assembly tally. It is not anti-incumbency but a pro-incumbency factor that has finally played out in the state.

How did LDF win?

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The single biggest takeaway from Kerala’s assembly election is the strong re-emergence of Pinarayi-Vijayan as an indomitable political figure in the state. A historic win, as the trends suggest, could mean the usual political pattern in the state could change forever. The role of young voters and neutral voters desperate for good governance could prove decisive from now on. The fact is that that nothing, including a raft of political allegations raised by the Congress-led UDF or the strong attack mounted by the BJP-led NDA on Sabarimala issue could halt the Vijayan juggernaut.

Also read: Pinarayi Vijayan: How Kerala's crisis manager won electoral hearts

This signals a radical change in the state’s political scene. There is a fundamental change in the voter behaviour of the state.

The CPM and its allies have not ceded control in any of its strongholds in this election. Early trends suggested that the UDF is fighting back but soon the trends changed and it became clear that the opposition miserably failed to dethrone the Vijayn government despite multiple favourable factors.

Remember, the Ramesh Chennithala-led Congress opposition had all the right weapons in its arsenal this time to raise anti-incumbency. The biggest of all was the Sabarimala issue. The Vjayan government’s handling of the highly sensitive subject was criticised heavily by the UDF while the BJP termed the state government’s approach as an attack on Hindu faith.

This issue was supposed to work well for both UDF and BJP, but it didn’t.

The Gold-smuggling case was the other hot issue in this election. The UDF ran months-long campaign against the state government citing the alleged connections with the key accused, Swapna Suresh, with the state government. The third was the deep-sea fishing controversy and the government allegedly washing away its involvement from the contracts signed. There were also allegations against LDF leaders against backdoor appointments in government enterprises. But, none of these allegations could impact LDF in this election.

There are a few key reasons why Keralites chose the LDF Government breaking a four-decade old pattern.

Among those, the most prominent one is the popularity of Vijayan himself as a no-nonsense administrator. Vijayan presented himself as a strong leader both within his party and outside. As the CM, Vijayan made his voice heard at the national level and has managed to retain his clean political image. There were no challengers for him both within the party and outside.

Second reason is the weak opposition led by the Congress-party which has been battling with in-fighting and a clutch of unhappy allies. The departure of the Jose K Mani-led Kerala Congress faction to the left camp further weakened the Congress party’s position in Central Kerala, a key geography which is decisive factor for any elections in the state. Congress party was seen as a divided house filled with leaders hungry for power. There was no unity as a party. For the neutral voter, it was a political outfit of numerous factions working for self-interest.

Third, the pro-incumbency factor played out to favour Vijayan government. The Vijayan-government’s response during the first wave of the Covid-pandemic won praises from across the country. The preparedness of the state under health minister K K Shailaja helped to keep the Covid spread under control and arrange treatment for the infected. There was a no chaos at any point compared with many other states. Kerala, under Vijayan, relatively did very well in the fight against Covid. This factor proved critical in the state elections. Voters know that the pandemic isn’t over and the governance continuity is key.

What does an LDF win means?

LDF returning to power will be good news to the state as there will be policy continuity at a time when the state's economy is ravaged by the deadly pandemic.  A new Government would have taken time to get familiar with the situation and that delay could have cost the state badly.

An LDF-win is clear bad news for the UDF for many reasons. For the party, a comeback will be even tougher. This time around, Kerala was a do-or-die contest for the Congress party. The party couldn’t capitalise on a number of political issues that happened over the last five years of LDF-rule including the infamous gold smuggling case, deep-sea fishing controversy and charges against LDF leaders in connection with PSC Backdoor appointments. A verdict in favour of massive win for LDF has put Ramesh Chennithala’s leadership in question.  Chennithala's leadership will now be questioned as the opposition leader who couldn’t convert any of the critical political issues to votes including the gold smuggling case.

For the BJP, this election result is a big setback. The party's aim was always to increase the vote share and seat tally in the state pinning hopes on issues like Sabarimala, which the party expected to help it significantly to draw the neutral Hindu votes. But, as the result showed, the BJP couldn’t make any gain. BJP has failed to open its account in Kerala. Here again, BJP's state leadership will have to answer for its poor performance.

The party garnered a vote share of 15 per cent in 2016 as against 43 per cent of LDF and 39 per cent of UDF. The BJP’s strategy has been to increase the vote share in every elections (assembly, local elections and Parliament) and thus make gradual progress in the traditionally LDF-UDF ruled state. Despite key issues like Sabarimala, the party failed to benefit this time, which will be seen as failure of the party's state leadership.

Brand Pinarayi Vijayan

Vijayan is called as 'Captain' by his supporters in Kerala. His image of being a strong leader has tremendously helped the party to bag this historic win. The huge win for LDF will give brand Vijayan even a bigger boost going ahead. Despite many headwinds, Vijayan led the party to power which would also mean brand Vijayan getting a major boost in the CPM cadres at national level. This five-year term wasn’t a smooth affair for Vijayan. There was a major flood, a raft of corruption allegations and a deadly pandemic. In spite of all this, the senior CPM leader and former state secretary of the party gifted a victory to his party which will elevate his stature in the party nationally.

Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the 2021 assembly election here
Dinesh Unnikrishnan
first published: May 2, 2021 01:33 pm

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