Congress sweeps Kerala, thanks to Modi and Pinarayi

Pinarayi Vijayan is expected to face questions in party forums over the poll debacle

Shashi Tharoor Congress R.S. Gopan Congress MP Shashi Tharoor (yellow kurta) being congratulated by fellow party leaders on his victory | R.S. Gopan

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has swept Kerala, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. This statement may sound ironic, but this is the story of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections for Kerala.

Kerala, which has always voted against the national mood—even during the post-Emergency election when Indira Gandhi was routed—has done the same again. While almost all other states elected BJP MPs in huge numbers, Kerala—which has enviable social indicators—failed all BJP candidates and elected the Congress massively.

The tally for the 20 Lok Sabha seats stands 19—1 in favour of the UDF, with A.M. Arif from Alappuzha constituency being the only winner for the Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the CPI(M). In the 2014 election, it was 12-8 in favour of the UDF.

The biggest loser in this election is the ruling CPI(M), which has lost all but one seat. Adding to its woes, the LDF has come third in one constituency, where the BJP bagged the second slot.

The Left's sad story, in fact, is not restricted to Kerala. It drew a blank in West Bengal and Tripura—bastions it had once ruled for decades.

“The CPI(M) is the biggest loser in this election. They are paying the price for having an unimaginative leadership. Those who are responsible for the current plight of the party should be expelled from the Politburo,” CMP leader C.P. John who was once part of the CPI(M), told THE WEEK.

That the CPI(M) is in a self-reflective mood after the rout was clear when senior CPI(M) leader E.P. Jayarajan said the party will do some serious introspection. “The result is indeed a huge setback for us. We will sit and analyse the results,” he said.

The most crucial factor behind the massive victory of the Congress in Kerala is the minority consolidation against the BJP. The minority communities had turned up for voting in huge numbers across the state. “The minorities, especially Muslims, had become very insecure about a possible return of BJP and Modi and they were ready to do anything to stop it. The only option before them was the Congress and they voted for it en block,” said Ummar T.K., academician and social critic.

According to him, the fact that the Left parties seemed reluctant to join hands with the Congress against Modi also brought the minorities closer to the Congress. “Kerala results reflects the minorities' political decision regarding who should rule the country,” he added.

The fact that most UDF candidates have won with huge margins gives the Congress more reasons to cheer. While Congress president Rahul Gandhi stands first with a victory margin of over 4 lakh votes in Wayanad, most UDF candidates have managed victories with margins beyond 1 lakh.

The entry of Rahul Gandhi as a candidate in Wayanad constituency is another reason that helped the Congress in Kerala in a big way. Apart from raising the morale of the Congress workers, Gandhi's entry also brought the minorities closer to the UDF.

“The only successful strategy of the Congress in this election was to field Rahul in Wayanad. It seems they had sensed that Kerala was the only state that favoured them and they wanted to maximise the gains from the state. It paid off,” said journalist Stanly Johny.

Another factor that helped the Congress was the resentment against Pinarayi Vijayan among the upper caste/class Hindu voters over his aggressive posturing on the issue of entry of women of all age groups into Sabarimala following a Supreme Court verdict. Though it was the BJP that led the protests on the Sabarimala issue, it was the Congress that benefited from this.

“Pinarayi's aggression regarding Sabarimala was a huge blunder. He failed to understand what Sabarimala means to believers and fell for the unrealistic words of intellectuals who have no connection with ground realities,” said Congress MP K. Muraleedharan.

That Vijayan's “progressive” posturing on Sabarimala and 'Renaissance' slogans did not have many takers is a reality that has reflected in the verdict. Though one does not foresee any major upheaval against Vijayan in the CPI(M) despite the rout, he will have to do a lot of explaining within the party forums.

“Till now, Pinarayi had been doing all the talking and the party stood behind him like a rock without any questions. Now, he will have to listen to others too,” said a senior party leader on condition of anonymity.

If there is one party that is equally as sad as the CPI(M), it is, ironically, the BJP. That it failed to open its account despite having a “golden opportunity” in the form of Sabarimala is an issue that will stare the state BJP leadership in the face. The BJP's only solace is that it could put up a decent fight in at least two constituencies.

“We accept the reality that voters of Kerala are yet to consider us winnable. But it is a fact that we have certainly made our presence felt,” said B. Muraleedharan of the BJP.

Explaining the situation, a top RSS leader told THE WEEK that the current state BJP leadership has failed and it is in for a total overhaul. “Party president is expected to directly take the reins of the party as he no longer trust the current crop,” he said.

The election results, however, do not have much correlation with the political realities on the ground. “The Lok Sabha election has no bearing on state politics as the verdict was totally against Modi and BJP. The Left had faced similar situation in many previous Lok Sabha elections, but the party returned to power in the next assembly elections,” said journalist and political observer P.K. Suresh Kumar.

That the Lok Sabha results do not reflect the political ground realities in the state is a fact that even UDF leaders admit amid the euphoria. “UDF could garner these many seats only because of the unusual wave against the Modi Government. If the UDF is to repeat the results in the Assembly elections, the Congress will have to do a lot of hard work,” said C.P. John, a senior UDF leader.

Though Kerala again managed to keep the BJP at bay, both the UDF and LDF are quite uneasy with the thumping victory of the BJP at the Centre. The tangible optimism that one finds in the RSS top ranks in the state, despite the failure to make a mark this time, should be read along with this.

``Erasing the Left from Kerala—as happened in Bengal and Tripura—had been one of the top priorities of Amit Shah. It has happened. Congress is a much weaker enemy for us and it will take us no time to make Kerala 'Congress mukt'” the RSS leader declared.

That BJP president Amit Shah—after making massive gains in West Bengal—is about to fix his focus on Kerala as the next 'task' is sure to give nightmares to both the LDF and the UDF in the coming days.