Sabarimala stir boosted UPA, not BJP
The Left parties have recorded their worst ever parliamentary performance, with just five Lok Sabha seats, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
This is a new low from the tally of 10 in the 2014 Lok Sabha. To be sure, some of it was expected. The Left has been losing ground in its erstwhile bastion of West Bengal since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
It lost Tripura to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2018. However, one state where the Left was expected to perform well was Kerala, where the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) is running the government. However, the LDF has managed to win just one Lok Sabha seat in the state, while the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has won all the remaining 19 seats.
The story of Left’s decline in Kerala seems to be similar to the story in West Bengal — the Left losing voters to the BJP. Here’s the key statistic. Both in 2014 and 2019, the combined median vote share of the LDF and the BJP was almost similar, about 60%. However the LDF-BJP break-up has changed from 41%-9% in 2014 to 35%-15% in 2019.
On the 19 seats the UDF has won, the NDA came second in one seat. In nine of the remaining 19 seats, the NDA’s vote share is more than the victory margin.
To be sure, the reason for the shift of LDF’s vote share to the National Democratic Alliance in Kerala is more ideological than it was in West Bengal. In West Bengal, the Left-to-BJP shift has been more due to the inability of the former to provide an effective opposition to the All India Trinamool Congress.
This was not the case in Kerala. The state, saw a major controversy after the Supreme Court, last year, ordered that women of all ages be allowed to enter the Sabarimala shrine in the state. Earlier, the temple did not permit women from the ages of 10 to 50 to enter the shrine.
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While the LDF government decided to uphold the court order, both the Congress and the BJP opposed it, and led prolonged agitations against it. The Sabarimala issue was an important fault-line in the 2019 elections. Ironical as it may sound, it is the Congress which seems to have ultimately benefitted from the issue.
Even though the BJP increased its vote share in the state, it was not enough to convert them into seats. The Congress-led UDF, on the other hand, has significantly increased its seat share by adding 5.8 percentage points adding to its 2014 vote share.
Perhaps the fact that UDF has a higher support among Muslims and Christians in the state — it has alliances with the Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (Mani) — than the LDF, which got a boost by a higher support from Hindus, helped the former in recording its best ever performance.