The corruption scandal around KM Mani and the resurgence of the CPI-M in the local polls are shifting poll equations in the southern state.
Image courtesy: Kerala Assembly website
Close on the heels of its recent panchayat poll defeat, the Congress-led UDF government has now lurched towards a fresh controversy even before it could review its electoral performance. The seriousness of the charges against Kerala Congress (M) leader KM Mani, of extracting bribes from bar owners, could well upset the calculations of next year’s assembly polls. In the wake of concerns expressed by the Kerala high court about the integrity of the bribery probe as long as Mani occupied the state’s finance minister’s post, the Congress leader has resigned. But by backing Mani for so long, the Congress has ended up damaging itself and failing to address important political developments that have been unfolding in the state. <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The recent panchayat poll outcome mirrors the volatility in the state’s politics and the challenges facing both the UDF and its main opponent LDF. After years of incessant factional infighting, the CPI-M was expected to do poorly in these polls, losing the support of the OBC Ezhava caste to a resurgent BJP. But the spate of recent controversies has finally pushed the party to fire on all cylinders and script a comeback act. The CPI-M-led LDF won a majority of gram and block panchayats, while sharing control of other local bodies almost equally, with the UDF. The BJP’s hopes of a Hindu consolidation, on the other hand, were dashed, with the party doing marginally better in the Hindu-dominated Thiruvananthapuram corporation and the Palakkad municipality. But the BJP’s marginal rise is not what captures the real story of the polls. Of crucial significance is how the opposing fronts, the LDF and the UDF, have tackled the new challenge posed by an ascendant BJP. The Congress’s gameplan rested on a split in Hindu votes, and sailing home with the help of minority votes as well as a slice of Hindu votes it hoped to secure. Unlike the arithmetic strategy of the Congress, the CPI-M launched a direct political campaign against communalisation of politics. The party’s veteran leader VS Achuthanandan, staring at his own irrelevance after being dropped from top party forums, was drafted back into the party to lead the LDF charge. He frontally targeted the BJP for its beef politics, the Congress for corruption, and the SNDP leader Vellapally Natesan, for an old murder allegation. The CPI-M’s vigorous campaign paid off. In most of the 34 wards recently won by the BJP in Thiruvananthapuram, the UDF was pushed to the third spot: a clear indication of Congress votes shifting to the BJP. In its silence, the Congress appeared to contribute to an important BJP victory. While, by overtly criticising all hues of communal politics, the CPI-M shored up its Ezhava vote base, scoring impressive wins even in the Muslim League-dominated Malappuram district. Unlike in West Bengal, where Muslims used to be integral to the CPI-M’s support base, the Left in Kerala has largely been unable to break the stronghold of the Congress, the Muslim League and the Kerala Congress, among Muslims and Christians constituting nearly 50% of the state’s population. The difference in vote share between the LDF at 37.36 and UDF at 37.23 is minimal, indicating the closeness of the contest. The BJP’s vote share, on the other hand, steadily increasing from 6.4% to 10.3% in the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, now stands at 13.27% in the local polls. This rapidly shifting political dynamic in Kerala has set the stage for an electrifying assembly election campaign in 2016.
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