With Kerala set to go to polls in the third phase on April 23, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has stolen a march on its rivals in Kerala. The LDF declared their candidates in quick time and finished one round of campaigning even before the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) could finalise its candidates. A number of surveys in the run-up to the polls have predicted an overwhelming lead for the UDF but the LDF is hoping to bridge that gap in what might turn out to be a triangular contest between the LDF, the UDF and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in a few seats.
The LDF strategy in this election revolves around putting up decent candidates and banking on its organisational strength to make up for other deficiencies. The defections from Congress ranks to the BJP are also helping the LDF to mount their campaign on this issue as the state with a Left psyche (not to be confused with the LDF) is expected to overwhelmingly vote for an alternative to the Narendra Modi-led government in Delhi.
The common refrain in the LDF conventions and rallies is how a vote for the Congress might turn out to be a vote for the BJP. Although no leader of consequence in Kerala has abandoned the Congress to join the BJP ranks, turncoats such as national spokesman Tom Vadakkan are often cited to make the point. Even Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP KV Thomas’ ambivalent reply to the press in the wake of his seat denial from the Ernakulam constituency has lent credence to the LDF campaign on the issue. Although Thomas did clarify his position after a day of mollycoddling by the Congress leadership, the damage was already done.
Left on the back foot
Still, the LDF is very much the underdog in this election. It has lost the support of some religious factions and community organisations that supported it as recently as the Chengannur assembly bypolls in May 2018. In fact, the general secretary of the influential Nair Service Society (NSS), Sukumaran Nair, had publicly vowed to teach the LDF a lesson after getting into a verbal duel with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. It need not be the case that the Nair community would abide by the diktat of Sukumaran Nair but a section of the ‘Caste Hindu’ vote would most likely desert the LDF in the wake of the Sabarimala judgment and its aftermath. In such a scenario, it is assumed that the UDF would most likely benefit from this erosion.
Also, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, which supported the LDF in Chengannur bypoll has volte-faced owing to the Pinarayi Vijayan government's failure to implement a Supreme Court order to handover 100-odd churches controlled by the Jacobite faction to it. The antagonistic stand of the Orthodox faction could affect the calculations of the LDF in a crucial seat of Pathanamthitta (Sabarimala is in this district) where the LDF nominee is Veena George, the incumbent Aranmula MLA and an alleged Church nominee.
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Political circumstances aside, the CPI(M), which leads the LDF, has put its best foot forward in the selection of candidates as well as not strictly enforcing the fixed term norms for their MPs to ensure maximum representation in the Lok Sabha. The Left parties also made it a point to not part with any seat to smaller allies in the LDF to this end. The CPI(M) might have missed a trick in not fielding the promising P Rajeev from his home constituency of Chalakudy instead of Ernakulam; that apart, they have fielded strong candidates in virtually every constituency.
The challenges ahead
This time the LDF hopes to wrest Alappuzha, Vadakara, Kollam and Kozhikode Lok Sabha seats from the UDF. By fielding K Muraleedharan at the last moment against P Jayarajan in Vadakara, the UDF has converted it into an even contest which could go either way. As for Kollam and Kozhikode, the incumbent MPs — NK Premachandran and MK Raghavan — look tough to dislodge although the CPI(M) has an excellent candidate in KN Balagopal in Kollam.
The LDF faces an even bigger challenge to hold on to its eight seats from 2014. The circumstances that helped it win the UDF bastions of Chalakudy and Idukki seats in 2014 no longer remain. Apart from these two seats where the incumbents look wobbly, the prospects of PK Sreemathi in Kannur also appear bleak against Congress’ Kannur strongman K Sudhakaran. Congress’ plan to field Remya Haridas in the reserved constituency of Alathur will also make CPI(M)’s sitting MP PK Biju sweat it out in this LDF bastion.
The LDF might also fancy its chances in the Indian Union Muslim League's (IUML’s) stronghold of Ponnani where they have fielded Nilambur MLA PV Anwar and also in Kottayam where UDF ally Kerala Congress has put up a weak candidate owing to intra-party power struggle. The political murders of Youth Congress workers in the north-most district of Kasargod in the run-up to the election might render the contest in the district very interesting with the UDF naming Rajmohan Unnithan as their candidate.
Although it would be too early to make a call, it might be well possible that the final tally is not very different from the present division. Even if the dice is clearly loaded in favour of the UDF, you can't fault the LDF for not giving it its best shot.
Anand Kochukudy is a Delhi-based academic and political commentator. Views are personal.
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