The result of the local body elections in Kerala, which came out on December 16, is good news for the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), is encouraging for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and is a setback for the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
While writing this article, the LDF is leading in 510 of the 941 gram panchayats, 35 of the 86 municipalities, 10 of the 14 district panchayats, and in four of the six corporations.
Against All Odds
Even under normal circumstances, these results are encouraging for an alliance which is at the fag end of its term in power in the state. It gives a hint at how the electorate will react in the state elections barely six months away.
But these are not ‘normal’ times — we are still fighting a pandemic and economic health, especially that of Kerala, is critical. In addition to this, the ruling Left government has lately been in the news for the wrong reasons: corruption allegations, dubious financial practices and allegations of smuggling gold, which have even reached the doorsteps of the Chief Minister’s Office.
The heavy hand of the Centre through its many agencies continues to exert pressure on the party ruling the state government, and media coverage has been far from exalting the Left.
The Left’s victory should be seen in this light — and that’s what makes it a good, even impressive, win. All those who have prepared elegies for the Left will have to wait till the next round. The electorate in Kerala has yet again reposed faith in the Left.
A Mixed Bag
For the BJP, the results offer a mixed bag. There is reason for the party to cheer: It has retained the Palakkad municipality and has won in Pandalam. In the Left strongholds of Kannur and Kollam, it has won a seat for the first time.
However, in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, the party has done poorly. While it might be able to retain 30-odd Corporation seats (from a total of 100), Thiruvananthapuram is where the BJP has a respectable presence in the state, and if it does poorly there, it is a sign which the national party cannot ignore.
Without doubt, the BJP is gaining ground in Kerala, but at an agonisingly slow pace — and it is the BJP which is at fault here. The electorate trusts the BJP and its leaders at the local level, but this trust does not extend to the assembly or Lok Sabha level. One of the reasons for this is the BJP’s poor candidate selection. It is a sign that the BJP must stop parachuting candidates when it comes to big ticket events like the assembly or Lok Sabha polls.
Anyone who gives a positive spin to the Congress’ performance in this election will do well in the world of fiction writing. The results are that bad for the grand old party. Among the 14 District Panchayats, the LDF and the UDF had seven seats each — results today indicate that the Congress-led UDF has been reduced to four. In traditional UDF strongholds of central Kerala, the LDF has made great progress, especially in Kottayam. In Thiruvananthapuram, the UDF has been pushed to a distant third.
Going into the polls, the UDF had several advantages: the LDF (which is its main opponent in the state) was plagued with allegations, and in 2019, the UDF convincingly defeated the LDF in the Lok Sabha polls. The UDF’s alliance with the Welfare Party and the Kerala Congress’ exit have adversely affected the alliance.
The gangrene affecting the Congress in many parts of India is yet to affect its state unit in Kerala — but if the complacency, lack of cohesiveness in vision and leadership and factional strife continues, it won’t be long before the infection spreads. Slowly, but gradually, the Congress is ceding space to the BJP in the state.
When the heat and dust of the results settle down, the Left-led government will have an immediate task in hand — to control the spike in COVID-19 cases because political parties are celebrating giving two hoots to the guidelines laid out by the Election Commission. On December 15, Kerala reported 5,218 new COVID-19 cases. In the days and weeks ahead, this number could see a spike.For more Opinion pieces, click here.