Thiruvananthapuram: The ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala on Friday bagged 21 of the 39 seats in the keenly fought bypolls to the local bodies. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) came second with 12 seats, the results of which were announced on Friday.
However, the BJP, which has led frenzied protests over the entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala, failed to make political dividends and got only two seats.
While local body polls are in no way an indicator of the fortunes of state or national parties, these elections were the the first in Kerala after the Sabarimala issue erupted.
At the outset, political pundits had been predicting that Hindu anger over Sabarimala issue would give the BJP an advantage, the LDF would find it a struggle to retain the large number of wards it had won last time, and the BJP's gains would be at the expense of the Congress-led UDF.
At least one of these predictions have been thrown to the wind. Not only has the LDF managed to cling on to its tally, it has managed to increase it this time. For all its hue, cry and hymn chanting, the BJP has managed to increase its tally by only 1 ward. While on paper, that’s a 100 percent increase, it’s hardly something the state unit can write home about.
BJP state president Sreedharan Pillai insists that the Sabarimala protest did work, and this is indicated by the increase in votes at the ground in districts of Pathanamthitta, Idukki and Alappuzha.
Here is a statewide check.
Among all the 39 wards, the BJP can boast an increased vote share only in a few of them. Worse, it has lost its sitting ward at Parappukkara in Thrissur district to the Left. Thrissur is where the BJP is hoping for a significant gain in vote share in the Lok Sabha elections.
Take another case of the Hindu-dominated Pathanamthitta district. This is the seat of the Pandalam royal family, which has ceremonial rights over the Sabarimala temple.
The royals had led the protests against women entry at the hill shrine from the front and the newly formed Pandalam municipality had been at the forefront of the protests. If anything, the expectation had been that the BJP would emerge a strong force in Pathanamthitta. Yet, in the two wards in the district where elections were held, the BJP remained a distant third while increasing votes marginally.
Hardline Muslim Social Democratic Party of India, long accused of association with terror outfits like the SIMI, in fact managed to wrest the same number of wards as the BJP. The SDPI’s candidate in 10th ward of the recently formed Pandalam municipality, MR Haseena, won the hotly contested seat by 9 votes. But to be fair, the BJP did increase its votes in this Muslim dominated ward from 5 votes in 2015 to 12 votes in 2018.
In Thrippunithura of Ernakulam district, which had witnessed wide spread hymn chanting protests over Sabarimala, the Left emerged victorious. In Bimbukal in Kasaragod district, the BJP was pushed to the third position from second in 2015. A similar drop in votes were seen in Paleri at Kozhikode’s Perambra Block Panchayat.
As Sreedharan Pillai insisted, the silver lining for the BJP came from his native Alappuzha district, where it managed to win one ward each in the Kavalam and Thakazhi Panchayats from the UDF. However, this seems to be more attributable to the popularity of the two candidates the party fielded. Both are ex-office bearers of the powerful Nair Service Society, which had thrown its weight behind the Sabarimala protests.
In the two other by-elections in the district, BJP votes dipped in the Ambalappuzha (South) ward, and increased only by around 30 votes in the Thakazhi 5th ward. So was there a pro-BJP wave in Pillai’s own district? The answer is evident.
However, we must emphasise that it is still simplistic to presume these by-elections indicate any large-scale setback for the BJP. Sabarimala is an emotive issue that could have reverberations at the national and state level, while local body by-elections always are fought on local issues. However, what cannot be ignored is that the Sabarimala issue seems to have swung some traditional votes away from the UDF.
The UDF tally has come down to 12 from 15. In its traditional bastion Ernakulam, the Left has managed a sweep. But did the BJP benefit as the pundits had predicted? Arguably, not.