Electoral success is all about getting the simple things right. But in the complex web of Kerala’s politics, it has never been simple arithmetic as the state has never elected the ruling party for a second term.
Assembly elections in the state are due in two months and analysts point towards the possibility of a fierce three-cornered contest between the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), and the BJP. However, it is not that simple either. Not for the BJP, at least. Kerala is yet to elect a BJP legislator though the state has more than 4,500 branches of the party’s ideological mentor, the RSS, and 70 other Hindu organisations.
In its quest for a foothold in the state, the BJP has waded into the complex game of wooing those Hindu organisations which have aligned alternately with UDF or LDF. Also, since Muslims and Christians have a considerable say in the UDF coalition, the BJP is eyeing consolidation of the Hindu voters – who constitute 55% of the state’s population -- to end its political drought.
“We are in touch with many organisations and community leaders. We will give both fronts a run for their money,” said BJP leader Shobha Surendran. An influential organisation of the backward community Ezhavas, too, has sided with the saffron party. The Ezhavas make up 20% of the population and has traditionally been Left-leaning.
In the just-concluded local body poll, the BJP managed a 15.6% vote share, a significant rise from the 6% it got in 2010 which, party leaders believe, is a sign of a state ready to move beyond its bipolar 140-member assembly.
But that is not even half of the story. The two big players in the arena, the Left and the Congress, have strong bases, cadre strength, popular leaders, seemingly right allies, and a tried-and-tested caste formula in the state that has 27 per cent Muslims and 18 per cent Christians.
Chief minister Oommen Chandy, 72, is an MLA for the past 46 years and has never lost an election. On paper, he is also the Congress’ best bet.
But never before has Chandy faced such damning corruption charges. Newspapers, television channels and social media in Kerala are buzzing with news about a ‘solar scam’ – throwing in salacious details about prime suspect Saritha Nair’s connections to the ruling party and midnight phone calls to political leaders.
Chandy’s plea that the state exchequer lost no money in the scam is lost in the din of opposition charges. The government is already under pressure in a bar license scam after the senior most minister in the Chandy cabinet KM Mani from the Kerala Congress stepped down over the issue.
Congress is also known for its factionalism in Kerala. The rival group has already said the party should go to elections under a Hindu leader. Chandy, a Syrian Orthodox Christian, heads a coalition where the second and third largest constituents are Muslim League and Kerala Congress (Mani), mostly a Christian party.
Chandy said the opposition’s allegations will not affect the UDF’s prospects. “We will go to the people citing our five years’ work. Other than worn out slogans what else can the Left offer? And (the) BJP has already exposed its bad face. We have got every chance of another term,” Chandy said.
But even the most die-hard Congress supporter will agree, it is not so simple.
For the CPM, the problem lies in something which communist parties are not usually known for – too many leaders eyeing the post of chief minister.
Former party state secretary Pinaryi Vijayan and present boss of the state CPM Kodiyeri Balakrishnan are waiting for their chance. Then there is politburo member MA Baby and former state finance minister Thomas Issac. But many in the party agree that even at the age of 92, VS Achuthanandan remains their most popular and influential leader.
“People are waiting for an opportunity to dump one of the most corrupt governments the state has ever seen. Its place is in waste basket now,” Achuthanandan said.
Though the electoral arithmetic promises a close fight this time, Kerala’s elections have always been the story of a tight finish. In the 2011 elections, the ruling UDF got 72 seats with 45.83% of the vote share and LDF won 44.9% to bag 68 seats.
In other words, just 1.68 lakh votes separated the winners and losers. In 35 assembly segments, the margin of victory was 5,000, reflecting the swing potential of these constituencies this year.