We are just a fortnight away from what looks like an epic assembly election in Kerala. Unlike in the past three decades when the outcome was more or less a foregone conclusion – the incumbent parties would be voted out – this time any prediction carries the risk of sticking your neck out.
About one-and-a-half years ago, the United Democratic Front led by the Congress Party was certain to retain the power. But six to seven months back, the picture completely changed in favor of the opposition, the Left Democratic Front. As the elections approached, the picture got muddy. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's 'Karunya' program, free cancer treatment and the Jana Samparka Paripadi (Mass Contact Program) along with projects such as the Vizhinjam port, Kannur Airport and Kochi Metro had created some positive impressions about the government. But allegations of graft, starting with the solar scam, gave rise to the feeling that corruption is rampant in the system. That again tilted the balance in favor of the LDF. However, the campaign that the UDF has launched, emphasizing on the development projects, once again added to the feeling that this is a government that works. Whether this campaign is strong enough to override the allegations of corruption remains to be seen though. A determined Bharatiya Janata Party, which seeks to win its first ever assembly seat in the state, also makes this election a real cliffhanger.
Let's have a quick glance over where the three parties have scored and where they have slipped.
The UDF started the process of selecting their candidates well in advance. The confusion and controversies at the eleventh hour regarding some candidates was a big set back and the so-called 'High-Command' of the Congress Party yielded to the Chief Minister's stance. This gave two messages: Chandy is in control, and he has emerged stronger and is prepared to stake his reputation because of the confidence he will come back. Nevertheless, even after the candidates were announced, there was confusion about a few constituencies and nearly half a dozen rebel candidates. The Congress also failed to start the campaign at the grassroots and still hasn't been able to reach the level of work that the rivals have been able to do. Clearly, a weak point for the UDF.
As far as the LDF is concerned, the head-start it had some six months ago when corruption allegations rocked the government, seems to have been lost to some extent. I think this is largely due to their overdependence and emphasis on the lady accused in the solar scam. The High Court's observations that questioned the credibility of the scam accused came in as a drubbing to the LDF. Also, when some strong potential candidates were dropped or fielded in unexpected constituencies, the factionalism that plagued the LDF came back to the fore. Even the UDF seems to have been surprised when the Left didn't put their strongest candidates in their sure-shot seats.
Though V.S. Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan had come together during the campaign, some recent Facebook posts seem to have derailed this strategy. It has given rise to the impression in the social media duel between the chief minister and V.S., Pinarayi is not being a party and V.S is fighting a lone battle with no major support from any LDF leaders. This caused many to think the LDF is not all that united. The LDF, however, had an edge in the campaign. They started their door-to-door campaigns and candidates' meeting with voters well in advance. They've been able to complete two to three rounds of grassroots level work even before the UDF could start.
The BJP is probably the only party which has nothing to lose in this election. They know that they aren't going to govern. But they need at least one seat to make an impact. Like the UDF and the LDF, BJP too ran into troubles with their choice of candidates. When you look at some of their candidates, you get the feeling that they were trying to adopt the tactics -- of fielding celebrities -- that works in other parts of India. Obviously, it's not going to work in Kerala. The internal squabbles in the party were also evident: when the first list of candidates for Thiruvananthapuram was released, there wasn't a single person in that list from the district. (They subsequently corrected this.) However, it looks like the party has the most structured and organized campaign so far in this election. They've been working on this for more than one-and-a-half-years, and in some constituencies, they had decided on the candidates six to seven months ago, allowing them to start work well in advance. Had their overall candidate selection been better, they would have bagged one or two seats more.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to address as many as six major rallies in coming days. BJP Chief Amit Shah is also visiting all the districts. These campaigns will have a major impact in the run-up to the elections, especially helping influence young voters. It will be interesting to see the BJP’s impact on the Hindus, and which vote bank will suffer an erosion. The visits of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and A.K. Antony will help boost the Congress’s confidence. The LDF, however, lacks such leaders of national stature with a star value and will depend on local stalwarts.
One thing is clear: the loser will be the one who yields the most votes to the BJP.
(Photo credit: Nagarjun via Foter.com / CC BY) gordontour via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND)