Party flags mingle during the election campaign in Vadakara, Kozhikode
Going by half a dozen pre-poll surveys, it is going to be a walk in the park for the Congress party-led United Democratic Front in Kerala in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls
According to most pre-poll surveys in Kerala, the gap between the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the state’s ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM — is huge, and it’s widening as the polls near.
The latest survey by CVoter for the Indo-Asian News Service gives 46.9% vote share to the UDF as against LDF’s 26.8% and 19.6% to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
If this happens, there should be a massive erosion in the LDF vote base, not only in favour of the UDF but also for the NDA, in which the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) with some sway over the powerful Ezhava community is the principal partner.
Many dismiss the predictions as far-fetched because 2- to 3% swing towards either side decides the outcome in Kerala’s bipolar politics always.
But this time around, NDA has emerged a decisive factor which could decide the fate of many candidates even if it cannot win a seat by itself. Pollsters believe it could eat into the vote bases of both the UDF and the LDF.
“I don’t expect a swing of more than 5% votes either way,” said Prof Sajad Ibrahim, head of the department of political science at the University of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram, who led the Kerala research team for CSDS-Lokniti for the last two elections.
“We used to conduct post-poll field studies. One thing that we noticed is that the voting intentions could change as the elections near. But the majority of people in Kerala are committed to political ideologies, and each formation has its vote base.”
He believes the UDF always had an upper hand when it comes to the national elections, especially so when it’s increasingly turning into a presidential mode, but feels the research agencies have got their data terribly wrong.
“I can’t see such huge anti-incumbency feelings against the ruling dispensation in Kerala, especially in a ballot to decide who should rule the country,” he said. “It’s likely to be pro-Narendra Modi nationally and pro-Rahul Gandhi in the deep south.”
He dismisses the theory that lifting of age restrictions on women at the famed Sabarimala hill shrine, political killings or post-flood farm sector crisis and suicides would have a significant impact on the poll outcome.
But the emergence of Congress president Rahul Gandhi as “a strong leader” and his attempts to shift the debate from ultra-nationalism to class-based redistribution of income and wealth would influence voters in Kerala.
“There’s a natural liking for Gandhi over Modi as Muslim and Christian minorities, who feel increasingly alienated, constitute around 45% of the population in Kerala,” Ibrahim told The Lede.
“If Gandhi chooses (to contest in) Wayanad (a hilly district in Malabar which is considered a Congress bastion), it could mean a clean sweep for the UDF in Kerala. Otherwise, it would end up winning 12 to 14 (of 20) seats as usual,” Ibrahim added.
The CSDS-Lokniti study he headed had in 2014 predicted an 11-17 win for the UDF and it won 12 seats, leaving eight to the LDF, including two independents backed by the LDF.
According to the March 2019 survey by CVoter, NDA would corner 19.6% votes, 4% more than what it polled in the 2016 state elections that the LDF swept.
Translated into seats, the UDF would win 17 seats, leaving the LDF three. The NDA, which is mobilising all its resources to Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta constituencies, would continue to draw a blank as it did in all parliamentary elections.
The UDF vote share, according to these surveys, has been steadily increasing and the LDF’s decreasing, over the past four months and the gap is widening by the day.
Many others attribute this to the three factors, Sabarimala, political killings and post-flood anti-incumbency feelings.
“The change is in the air, and you can see that,” said KM Shajahan, the 2006 election strategist-turned-critic of veteran CPM leader and former chief minister VS Achuthanandan.
“I think the women voters, especially from the majority Hindu community which is the backbone of the CPM, would exercise their mandate against the politics of arrogance and they would do it silently as the pre-poll surveys show.”
There were 30 political murders, 11 custodial deaths and three encounter killings, he points out, since the LDF government came to power in 2016. Last week, there were three murders in the state capital alone and three elsewhere in the state.
“Gandhi has hijacked the Left’s political agenda, especially through the minimum income guarantee scheme. I won’t be surprised if it gets decimated after these elections,” Shajahan told The Lede.
“I have been visiting some of the constituencies after the elections were called and could feel the outrage against violence. I had seen such a surge during the 2006 (state election) campaign (by Achuthanandan when the LDF swept).”
Others whom The Lede spoke to, including even UDF leaders, refused to be swayed by these surveys, which one likened to last year’s floods, the second worst of the century, that killed 483 people and left some 1.5 million people homeless.
But none dares to predict who is going to perish in the political deluge in the making.
Dr CJ Josekutty, director of Survey Research Centre at the University of Kerala, said he was also confused how these agencies collected samples and arrived at conclusions.
“I have to study the samples and the methodology they had adopted,” he told The Lede. “I haven’t seen those surveys.”
Voters Mood Research earlier this month, in a survey commissioned by the Times Now television channel, predicted an almost equal number of seats (16) for the UDF, leaving three to LDF and one the NDA.
It gave 45% vote share to the UDF, a sharp increase from its findings in January when 38.9% respondents supported the UDF, 29.2% the LDF (26% in January) and 21.7% to the NDA (22% in January).
In between, voters who preferred others went down from 13.1% to 4.1%.
In the 2014 national elections, the UDF had cornered 41.98% votes and the LDF% per cent. The NDA increased its vote share from 6.43% to 10.82%.
Others, including Aam Aadmi Party had 7.3% votes. The Welfare Party of India of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami is not fielding candidates this time and has started campaigning for the UDF candidates in all the 20 constituencies.
Last month, a survey by A-Z Research Partners for Asianet News also predicted up to 16 seats for the UDF, underlining earlier findings by C-Voter for Republic TV, both promoted by BJP lawmaker Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
It also ranks chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan with 18% approval rating, far below his predecessors Oommen Chandy (24) of the Congress and Achuthanandan (20), the 95-year-old CPM leader who is now busy campaigning for his party candidates.
The LDF is likely to win three to five seats and NDA one, opening its account in Kerala. The vote share for the UDF was 44%, the LDF 30% and the NDA 18%.
Surveys cite a massive Hindu backlash against the LDF dispensation for its dismal performance around the controversy following the Supreme Court judgment of September 28, 2018, advocating entry for women of fertile age to the abode of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala, whom they believe is an eternal celibate.
The Republic TV-CVoter survey in December had given the UDF 39.9% vote share and 17 seats as against three seats and 29.1% votes to the LDF while the BJP drew a blank, though 19% votes would go into its kitty.
An ABP-CVoter opinion poll in January also returned almost the same results, giving 16 seats to the UDF and four to others.
“If the verdict goes heavily against the CPM in Kerala (the last bastion after a rout in West Bengal and Tripura), it could present peril to its status as a national party,” sums up Ibrahim. “It’s high time the party looked beyond the state.”