Outcome of the elections to the 140-member Kerala assembly will have larger ramifications beyond the state, as the political future of both the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), appear to be at the crossroads, according to analysts.
Kerala is India’s only state ruled by communists at this point. Losing it will pose several questions to the Left on the way forward and also on its relevance in today’s electoral politics.
On the other hand, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has led the Kerala campaign from the front (he is an MP from the state’s Wayanad seat), will want to script a turnaround after a series of electoral debacles.
If his party wins, the Congress will be in power in a sixth state, alongside Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand (it is part of the ruling coalition in the last two).
Kerala has traditionally changed its government every five years — a trend that would make Gandhi hopeful. Also, the southern state was a silver lining for his party that suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2019 national elections. Amidst the rout, the Congress won 15 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala.
And then there is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has run an aggressive campaign and roped in prominent personalities such as E Sreedharan, who is a retired engineer best known for leading the Delhi Metro project.
While the debate in Kerala has largely centred around whether the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) will be able to oust the Left Democratic Front (LDF) — incidentally, the two sides are allies in West Bengal — the BJP has focused on making a mark in the state where it has traditionally been weak.
“The most important aspect of the assembly election in Kerala is that it may determine the future course of action of the three major political fronts. Hence, it is vital for all of them,” political observer NM Pearson said.
Pearson said stakes were high especially for the CPI(M), which needed an “address in the country as the last resort for communism”. The poll the outcome would decide “the future of communism in India”, according to Pearson.
Pearson added that the “very existence” of the Congress party was dependent on the results on May 2. “Hence, they also need to win the election at any cost. Both these parties and their alliances are engaged in a do-or-die battle.”
Pearson said the elections were equally important for the Centre’s ruling BJP. “To them, increasing the number of seats in the assembly is more important than improving vote share in the elections.” The BJP won just one seat in the state in 2016.
On voting day, all three camps exuded confidence about an impressive showing.
BJP leader Kummanam Rajeshekaran, who is contesting Nemom, said his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had a “bright” chance with people supporting the party.
“We are confident of a victory from Nemom. The BJP will win more seats this time. We want to form a government in Kerala and the BJP will become a decisive force. The Congress and communists have been ruling Kerala for the past 64 years; people are upset and they want change. Voters should come out and exercise their constitutional right,” he said.
Parliamentarian and Congress leader K Muraleedharan was confident of the UDF’s return to power. “Higher polling is an indicator,” he said, hinting at the anti-incumbency factor. His party colleague, AK Antony, said the “Congress will come back to power with a resounding majority”.
But chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had a different view. “Lord Ayyappa and all other lords are with the LDF government. And this government has the support of all devotees. The LDF will continue in power for the next five years,” he said.