Union government employee in Kochi, M. Kutty, will not cast his vote for the Lok Sabha polls next week. Neither will his wife and son. Kutty and his family will be in Bangalore with his daughter, celebrating Vishu, Kerala’s harvest festival, on 14 April, two days before the southern state goes to polls.
Prasad S., a marketing executive with a private outfit in Kozhikode, and five of his friends, will also stay away from elections and the rising mercury. They are all heading for the cooler climate of Ooty, a hill station in Tamil Nadu, over this weekend.
Kutty, Prasad and many others in the southern state are encouraged to look for getaways when the world’s largest democracy goes to polls, thanks to a string of holidays that precede the democratic ritual every five years.
With its 20 Lok Sabha seats, Kerala goes to polls on 16 April. Barring two working days—on Monday and Wednesday next week—it’s holiday all the way, beginning Maundy Thursday. For state government employees, the second Saturday of every month is a holiday. With Good Friday thrown in between, the state is enjoying a four-day weekend. Then, there is Vishu on 14 April, the state’s grand harvest festival where elders shower the younger members of families with gifts.
Political parties are worried as the string of holidays will impact the voting-pattern. In the last Lok Sabha elections in 2004, 71.45% of voters in Kerala cast their votes against the national average of 58.07%. This time around, this will go down, they say.
The campaign ends on Tuesday, Vishu day. The Communist Party of India as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party had requested the Election Commission in March to defer the Kerala polls but this was not done since other parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress party did not press for a change of date.
Vivekananda Travels (P) Ltd, a local tour operator, has a series of bookings over the next few days to the hill stations in Kerala such as Munnar and Thekkady and also the backwaters of Alappuzha.
With the mercury rising to 38 degrees Celsius in several cities, many Keralites are preferring to head towards Coorg and Kodaikanal instead of the polling booths. And those who use public transport for their getaways seem to have booked their tickets in advance as inter-state bus operators say no tickets are available to travel to Bangalore, Mysore and most of the hill stations next week.
It’s not as if everybody’s caught up in wanderlust during the poll season. In the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram as well as Kochi and Kozhikode, there are many voters who had migrated from villages. They will use the long weekend and festivities that spill over to next week to visit their relations and extended families.
This is perhaps the first election in Kerala where there is a growing lack of interest among the voters. According to J. Prabash, a political analyst and reader in political science at the Kerala University, the sold-out bus tickets and hotel bookings at hill stations are a reflection of people’s lack of faith in the political leadership which has over the years been moving away from the people. "This explains why people prefer to take a vacation during the polls," he said.
He could not say which party will gain if less people cast votes. "It’s difficult to predict who will gain. The Left leadership is no longer of the working class but has been taken over by the middle class like the Congress and others. The losses through absenteeism (in polling booths) will be even for all parties," he said. Last time, the Left-led front won 18 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats.