LDF’s response to crises led to its return to power in Kerala
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala defied a four-decade-long trend to retain power in the state. Not only has the LDF bounced back from its 2019 Lok Sabha debacle, it has actually improved its 2016 performance both in terms of seat share and vote share. The Congress led United Democratic Front (UDF) which won 19 out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, has failed to replicate its Lok Sabha performance.
According to the trends available at the Election Commission of India’s website at 11:40pm, the LDF won or was leading in 93 assembly constituencies (AC) in an assembly of 140. The UDF was ahead on 40 ACs.
An HT analysis shows that the LDF reaped strong tailwinds from pro-incumbency sentiment across the state.
Of the 140 assembly constituencies (ACs) in Kerala, the northern, central and southern regions of the state have 60, 46 and 34. The northern region, which includes the districts of Kasargod, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Mallapuram and Pallakad, has the largest share of Muslims (43.5%) in the state. Muslims have a share of 26.6% in the state’s population, as per the 2011 census. Christians have a share of 35.6% of the population in the central region, which includes the districts of Thrissur, Ernakulam, Idukki and Kottayam. The Southern region, which includes the districts of Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram has the smallest share of Muslims and Christians and the largest share of Hindus.
A comparison of region-wise seat share and vote share suggests gains for the LDF across the state, while the UDF has lost ground everywhere. This holds not just for change in political fortunes between 2019 and 2021 but also 2016 and 2021. The LDF has recorded its best performance in the southern region, while the UDF has performed the best in the northern region, largely on account of the Indian Union Muslim League’s (IUML).
What explains the LDF’s impressive performance? The current LDF government’s tenure was among the most crisis-ridden in the state’s history, with devastating floods in 2018, 2019 and 2020, controversy over the Supreme Court order allowing entry of women of all ages in the Hindu shrine of Sabarimala and the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. A survey conducted by the CSDS-Lokniti after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections showed that the LDF might have paid dearly for taking a stance in favour of women in Sabarimala, even though it enjoyed a favourable image in handling other crisis such as the 2018 floods and Pinarayi Vijayan being the most popular leader in the state.
The LDF government backtracked on its Sabarimala stand after a larger Supreme Court bench stayed the original verdict. This when read with the fact that the LDF has increased its seat share in Hindu dominated southern region from 8.8% in 2019 to 85.3% in 2021, suggests that it more than won back its lost Hindu vote in the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), meanwhile, lost vote share compared to 2019, and returned to a similar level of vote share as 2016 in southern districts. The combined vote share of the BJP and its ally the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena was less in this election than in both 2016 and 2019.