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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 39, New Delhi, September 14, 2019

The 17th Lok Sabha Polls (2019) in Kerala: A Decisive Political Vote

Sunday 15 September 2019

by M.R. Biju and M.R.B. Anantha Padmanabha


For the Left parties in Kerala it is the time for a clear introspection. Unless they adopt stringent corrective measures, they may soon be on the road to elimination. Arrogance of some topmost leaders of the Left parties and violence promoted by a section are primarily responsible for their decline in the State. While the Kannur model of violence practised by party workers across the State has had a drastic impact, even other factors cannot be neglected. While instances of apparent double- speak led to a loss of credibility, a sour lack of connect with the masses too may have contributed to the rout. The authoritarian style of functioning of the State Chief Minister also contributed a lot. For example, on issues like Sabarimala, the stand of the CM was not in tune with the ground realities prevailing in the State. The Hindus, comprising the Ezhavas and Nairs, have been main supporters of the CPM. The way the order of the Apex Court on Sabarimala was handled by the State Government forced a large section of the Hindu women to desert the party. Further, the Left parties, unlike the past, are unable to convince the people outside the party and take them into confidence. The leadership even refused to listen to the pulse of the common man; thus naturally the sympathisers began dwindling.


WHEN the Congress suffered a drubbing in most parts of the country, Kerala bucked the trend and stood firmly with it, handing the party-led United Democratic Front a landslide. While the UDF won 19 of the 20 seats on offer, the Communists suffered a humiliating defeat, winning only one seat in their only remaining bastion. The verdict was almost a repeat of 1977 when the UDF won all 20 seats. The Sabarimala factor made its impact, but not as predicted. While the CPM-led Left Democratic Front suffered a debacle, the BJP-led NDA failed to win even a single seat. The BJP, riding on the Sabarimala sentiments, had entertained hopes of winning at least two seats, but the best the party could achieve was a runner-up position in Thiruvananthapuram. In all other seats, the NDA finished third. However, the BJP was able to bag close to 3 lakh votes in Pathanamthitta and Thrissur.

Alappuzha turned out to be a face-saver for the Left as A.M. Ariff, the CPM’s sitting MLA from Aroor, managed to wrest the seat from the Congress. In the UDF tally of 19, the Congress has 15, Muslim League two, and Kerala Congress (M) and RSP one each. Nine of these seats were won by a margin of more than one lakh votes, with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi breezing past his nearest rival P.P. Suneer of the CPM by a record 4.31 lakh votes in Wayanad. The ignominious defeat the Left suffered will have far-reaching repercussions in State politics. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will have too many questions to answer, especially on the Sabari-mala front. It could even go a long way in redefining his political ambitions. State Congress President Mullappally Ramachandran and senior leader Ramesh Chennithala have demanded Pinarayi’s resignation, terming the verdict a fitting reply to his “arrogance and the Left Government’s anti-people policies”.

While the LDF suffered shock-defeats in its traditional strongholds, including in north Kerala, the victory of underdogs Remya Haridas (Alathur) and V.K. Sreekandan (Palakkad) over sitting MPs P.K. Biju and M.B. Rajesh respectively should further demoralise the Front. Chief Minister Vijayan, who termed the verdict unexpected, said the party would look into the factors that led to the debacle. In a statement, he said there was a strong anti-BJP sentiment in Kerala following the widespread campaigning by the Left which led to the verdict. The exit polls about the State came true as far as the UDF landslide is concerned. BJP State chief P.S. Sreedharan Pillai blamed the party’s failure to win a seat on the UDF’s minority appeasement tactics, but said the NDA would soon emerge as an alternative in the State. The failure is sure to trigger conflicts in the party’s State unit in the coming days. But it would not be surprising if a State leader finds a place in the new Narendra Modi Cabinet.

The huge victory of the UDF in the State trouncing the Left Front by a margin of 19-1 seems to be surprising owing to the consolidation of minority and majority votes in favour of the Front, obviously for different reasons. While the candidature from Wayanad of Rahul Gandhi, who was projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UPA, led to the minority consolidation in favour of the UDF and the Congress, the Sabarimala issue was considered one of the major factors which led to the consolidation of the majority.

Surprisingly, the Congress reaped the benefits of the Sabarimala issue in which the BJP was vociferous and fought it out on the streets resulting in several party workers being jailed. However, the BJP could not get any seat in the State even after all the struggles it had undertaken for the cause. The Congress stand all through the issue was that the party had always been with the devotees and that the UDF Government led by Oommen Chandy had given an affidavit in the Supreme Court opposing the entry of women in Sabarimala. KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran, while speaking to the media, said, “I am jubilant and the party has done exceedingly well and this victory is against the arrogance of the Chief Minister and the anti-people policies of the LDF Government. Pinarayi Vijayan should put in his papers taking responsibility for this huge drubbing the people have given the Left Front.” Keeping this in the background, this paper examines the political significance of the seventeenth Lok Sabha polls in Kerala and its aftermath. It has been categorised under four heads. Part-I presents the regionwise analysis of the results, Part-II analyses the role played by BJP and its allies, Part-III deals with the electoral performance of the LDF in general
and the CPI-M in particular. The role of the SDPI, BDJS and Religious and caste-based organisations are also unfolded in Part-III. Part-IV presents the findings of the study.

I People’s Verdict—Regionwise Analysis

A. Central Kerala

Central Kerala is traditionally pro-UDF, but the alliance was imbued with the force of a juggernaut as it demolished the strongholds of the Left in the Thrissur and Idukki Lok Sabha constituencies in the general election this time. In Alappuzha, where the CPI-M’s A.M. Ariff bucked the trend to post a win by over 9000 votes, he trailed in all Assembly segments except Cherthala, which gave him a lead of 17,000, and Kayamkulam, where he led by some 4000 votes. The jolt suffered by the Left Front in the region could be gauged from the fact that of the 42 Assembly segments in the Thrissur, Chalakudy, Ernakulam, Idukki, Alappuzha and Kottayam Lok Sabha constituencies, the alliance could garner a lead in just three segments, with the CPI-M’s V.N. Vasavan managing to lead the Vaikom Assembly segment of the Kottayam seat by about 9000 votes. In the Assembly election in 2016, the Left had secured 26 of the 42 segments in these Lok Sabha constituencies.

Four of the UDF candidates from the region posted victory margins of over one lakh, while it was over 93,000 votes for T.N. Prathapan in Thrissur, where NDA candidate and film star Suresh Gopi managed to clinch the second position in the Thrissur Assembly segment, relegating the CPI’s Rajaji Mathew Thomas to the third spot. The Thrissur Assembly segment is held by CPI leader and Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar. In Ernakulam, where Hibi Eden, MLA, posted a record victory margin of 1.69 lakh votes, the Left could not come anywhere close to him in any of the Assembly segments. In the Thripunithura, Vypeen, Kochi and Paravur segments, where the Left was hoping to clinch a lead, it suffered a rout.

In Chalakudy, actor and sitting MP Innocent put up a close fight only in the Kaipamangalam Assembly segment (held by the CPI). Idukki, which was won by the Congress’s Dean Kuriakose by a margin of 1.71 lakh votes, bestowed on him the biggest lead from the Thodupuzha segment (37,000 votes) followed by Muvattupuzha (30,000 votes), which is held by the CPI in the Assembly. Kottayam sprang no surprises, as Thomas Chazhikkadan won comfortably. But NDA candidate P.C. Thomas was able to garner 1.55 lakh votes, thrice over the votes polled by the NDA candidate in 2014. Alappuzha too witnessed a similar trend, with NDA candidate K.S. Radhakrishnan polling 1.86 lakh votes, thereby spoiling the Congress’s prospects.

B. Southern Kerala

Riding on the crest of a high wave of anti-Central and State Government sentiment, the United Democratic Front (UDF) surfed to victory in five Lok Sabha constituencies in south Kerala. The UDF win in Thiruvananthapuram, Attingal, Kollam, Pathanamthitta and Mavelikara also stymied a total Rightward shift in votes to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which expected to reap dividends from the deeply polarising Sabarimala issue. The Front’s emphatic win in the south signalled a consolidation of minority votes in its favour in the face of the Sangh Parivar’s attempt to assault secular values and arbitrate on issues such as the consumption of beef, Babri Masjid, triple talaaq Bill and the proposed Church Act. It also indicated a general reluctance among voters hurt by the State Government’s handling of the temple issue to bet entirely on the untested Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The UDF wins further suggested that a majority of the voters had decided to stay the course with the Congress to express their grievances.

Notably, the UDF’s star candidate, Shashi Tharoor, trumped his nearest rival, Kummanam Rajasekharan of the BJP, by a positive 99,989 votes in Thiruvananthapuram. He bulldozed C. Divakaran of the LDF to the third position and upped his lead. In Attingal, widely reckoned as a Left bastion, Adoor Prakash of the UDF dashed the hopes of incumbent A. Sampath of the CPI-M by a whopping 38,247 votes. In a surprise, Sobha Surendran of the NDA bagged 2,48,081 votes in the segment.

Upending poll predictions, Anto Antony of the UDF won by 44,613 votes in the hotly contested Pathanamthitta constituency. The parliamentary segment was the epicentre of the rancorous Sabarimala debate which pitted the government against the Congress and BJP. Antony pushed Veena George of the LDF and K. Surendran of the NDA to second and third places respectively. In Kollam, N. K. Prema-chandran of the UDF won by a wide margin of 1,49,772 votes over his rival K.N. Balagopal of the CPI-M. Premachandran, who was personally vilified by the LDF for deserting it in 2014, leaned on his appeal and parliamentary prowess to beat his rivals. In Mavelikara, Kodikunnil Suresh of the Congress handily defeated Chittayam Gopakumar of the LDF by a lead of 61,500 votes. The NDA has claimed that it has improved its vote-share in all the four constituencies.

C. Northern Kerala

A mind-boggling 4.31 lakh vote victory for Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad has given the UDF the highest victory margin in the Malabar region, apart from the largest number of votes polled in the State. From Kasaragod to Alathur, all the nine constituencies in the region stood firmly behind the UDF—seven for the Congress and two for the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). The most exciting victory in the State this time—of the greenhorn Ramya Haridas with a 1.58 lakh vote margin at Alathur—is also from the region.

But for Palakkad and Kasaragod, Malabar gave huge majorities to the UDF candidates. Most exit polls had discounted UDF fortunes in Kasaragod (which is part of the CPI-M heartland in Malabar) and Palakkad (where the CPI-M’s sitting MP, M.B. Rajesh, had built up reputation for being a
good legislator). But Rajmohan Unnithan and Sreekantan could swim along with the UDF wave, though their margins were not as impressive as others. That Gandhi would secure an impressive victory was a foregone conclusion. Senior Congress and IUML leaders had earlier expressed the hope that his margin would be between 2 lakh and 2.5 lakh. But they are all now mesmerised by the 4.31-lakh margin with which Gandhi has won. the UDF leaders concede gleefully that the untiring grassroots-level work by the IUML workers and some of the tiny Muslim parties had a big role in Gandhi’s spectacular win.

Gandhi’s triumph is even more outstanding considering the fact that he had campaigned in the constituency just for a day. He is among the big-ticket winners in the country and is not very far behind BJP President Amit Shah, who has mopped up a margin of over five lakh votes. Gandhi has lost his sitting seat of Amethi to Smriti Irani and hence he will now be forced to keep Wayanad. Earlier, it was believed that Gandhi, after winning Wayanad, would opt to retain Amethi. P.K. Kunhalikutty’s victory margin of 2.60 lakh in Malappuram is the second largest in the State, after Gandhi. If Gandhi is reckoned as an ‘outsider’, Kunhalikutty’s is the largest victory margin in Kerala of a Malayali candidate.

E.T. Mohammed Basheer’s victory margin of 1.93 lakh in Ponnani is spectacular when viewed against the background that at one time it had seemed that his contest against P.V. Anvar was a close one. In Kozhikode, Vadakara and Kannur, the Congress had run a strong campaign and their candidates were strong too. In Vadakara, fielding of K. Muraleedharan was a very tactical move.

D. Political Violence in Kasargod and its Aftermath

The issue of political violence has played a decisive role in shaping the electoral outcome in the parliamentary constituencies of north Malabar as it was the United Democratic Front’s (UDF) key campaign theme in the aftermath of the twin murders of Youth Congress workers Kripesh and Sharath Lal at Kalloytt in Kasaragod in February. The electoral debacle of the Communist Party of India-Marxist in the Kannur, Kasaragod, and Vadakara consti-tuencies, parts of which have seen incidents of political violence and murders, is a clear indication that the UDF’s concerted efforts during the campaign to keep the issue live yielded results. Congress candidates in the constituencies left no stones unturned to train the spotlight on what it called the CPI-M’s culture of eliminating its rivals. UDF circles say that its campaign salvo targeting the CPI-M’s alleged culture of political violence struck a chord with the electorate in the region.

“The outcome was also the people’s mandate against political violence perpetrated by the CPI-M in Kannur and neighbouring areas,” said K. Sudhakaran, who romped home from Kannur with a thumping margin. People were fed up with political violence in the region, he added. Sudhakaran polled 5,29,741 votes in the Kannur Lok Sabha constituency while his rival candidate polled 4,35,182. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s C.K. Padmanabhan came a distant third with 68,509 votes. The UDF had also invoked during the electioneering the murder of S.P. Shuhaib near Mattannur last year. The appeal of the UDF candidates to the outrage of the people against the youth’s murder gave a poignant touch to the electioneering of the UDF.

People’s Verdict 2019

The candidature of CPI-M leader P. Jayarajan, who is an accused in the cases of murders of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker K. Manoj and Indian Union Muslim League worker Abdul Shukkoor, both investigated by the CBI, was utilised by the UDF during the campaign to portray the CPI-M as a party that sheltered the accused in cases of political violence. The CPI-M will be left to do some serious introspection in the coming days on the situation that led to its rout in north Malabar, which it treated as its invincible fortress. The party’s major cause of concern will be erosion of votes even in its stronghold Assembly segments such as Dharmadam, Mattannur, and Taliparamba, where Sudhakaran could garner substantial number of votes.

II BJP Needs Fresh Strategies

DESPITE its aggressive poll campaign exploiting the discontent among the Ayyappa devotees against the CPM stand on the Sabarimala issue the BJP failed miserably to open its account in the State yet again. But the NDA could increase its vote-share from 19,44,204 in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to 31,34,213 in 2019, an increase of 11,88,909 votes.

Has the BJP reached a stagnation-point in its growth trajectory in Kerala? The results of the Lok Sabha elections, where the party failed to raise its vote-share, points to the need for the party to look beyond its traditional vote-base in Kerala. The party’s vote-base grew from 6.4 per cent in 2009 to 14.9 in 2014. However, despite the Sabarimala issue, the party’s vote- share grew only by 0.5 per cent, which was worrying. The BJP was hoping to raise its vote share beyond the 20-per cent mark and win Thiruvanantha-puram and Pathanamthitta seats exploiting the sentiments of the Ayyappa devotees who were hurt by the incidents at Sabarimala. Though the role of the BJP-RSS workers in foiling attempts to facilitate entry of young women to the hill shrine was appreciated by the devotees, it failed to convert the support into votes. According to a senior leader, a section of the Hindus, who vowed support to the efforts to protect the traditions and practices, voted for the Congress candidates to ensure the defeat of the CPM.

Based on a directive from BJP President Amit Shah, the BJP in Kerala had initiated steps to win the confidence of the Christian community in Kerala much before the elections. Though the leaders held talks with the Church represen-tatives and Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam sanctioned funds for certain churches, they failed to win the confidence of the community.

“There are some apprehensions among the Christian community, which we need to address. The party has been trying to reach out to them and the Orthodox community had indicated their willingness to support us. However, it did not happen. There are issues like blocking of NGO funding and the request to facilitate the visit of Pope Francis to India. Even Kannan-thanam did not get the support of the community. Some of the demands of the community will be met by the new government to dispel the misgivings,” said the BJP spokes-person.

“Many Hindu families had parted ways with the CPM after the Sabarimala incident. They decided to teach the Pinarayi Government a lesson and voted for the UDF to ensure the defeat of LDF candidates. Though BJP candidates could not win, we are happy to see the rout of the LDF. Cases were slapped on around 35,000 devotees for participating in the Sabarimala agitation Around 10,000 people were arrested and more than 100 people were put in jail for more than a month. We are happy that the electorate in Kerala has given a befitting reply to the LDF for the atrocities against devotees,” said Sabarimala Karma Samithi’s general convenor.

Aggressive Campaign Failed

DESPITE its aggressive campaigning exploiting the discontent among the Ayyappa devotees against the CPM stand on the Sabarimala issue, the BJP failed miserably to open its account in the State yet again. In 2014, the BJP had lost Thiruvananthapuram constituency by a slender margin of 15,530 votes. With the Sabarimala sentiments triggering a Hindu vote-consoli-dation in south and central Kerala, the BJP had fielded: former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan here, hoping to win the seat with a comfortable majority. Though the party’s vote- share increased from 2,82,336 in 2014 to 3,13,925 this time, the percentage of votes plummeted from 32.45 per cent to 31.28 per cent. Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor’s victory with a margin of one lakh votes has in fact shocked the BJP leadership in the State. In Pathanamthitta, where BJP candidate M.T. Ramesh had secured 1,38,954 votes in 2014, the party polled 2,97,396 votes.

Though there was an increase of 112 per cent in the vote-share it was not sufficient to win the seat. The party was hoping to win Patha-namthitta, riding on the strong sentiments among the Hindu community, who were hurt by the Sabarimala incident. Congress candidate Anto Adtony polled 37.11 per cent votes to win the seat, while CPM candidate Veena George secured 32.8 per cent votes. BJP candidate K. Surendran finished a distant third with 28.97 per cent vote.

BDJS Helped NDA to Increase its Vote-Share

THE support of the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), which represents the prominent Ezhava community, has helped the NDA improve its vote-share in the State. BJP President P.S. Sreedharan Pillai himself had appreciated the BDJS workers’ dedicated support during the campaigning. Now, the steep rise in the NDA’s vote-share in Alappuzha, Attingal, Thrissur and Wayanad constituencies, where the Ezhava community has a strong presence, points to ‘the shift in its allegiance’.

The NDA, which had secured 90,528 votes in 2014, almost tripled the tally this time—2,46,502. In Varkala, Attingal, Chirayinkeezhu and Aruvikkara Assembly constituencies, the alliance polled 34,343, 42,389, 32,829 and 30,151 votes in that order. In Alappuzha, where former Public Service Commission chairman K.S. Radha-krishnan contested, the NDA increased its vote- share from 43,051 to 1,86,092. BJP leaders had lauded the campaigning by the BDJS activists at Manalur, Nattika, Thrissur, Irinjalakkuda and Puthukkad. Though actor Suresh Gopi won sizable votes on his own, the role of the BDJS cannot be ignored as the the NDA’s vote-share increased from 1,02,681 to 2,93,405. “The increase in votes points to the NDA’s growth as a third front in Kerala. The people of the State have cast their votes against murder politics,” said BDJS President Thushar Vellappally.

BJP Votes Fell in UDF Kitty

DID the BJP supporters cast their votes in favour of UDF candidates in key constituencies to ensure the defeat of their bête noire, the CPM? A close look at the voting pattern in CPM bastions reveals a steep decline in BJP votes which points to a possible transfer of votes. It may be noted that Sabarimala Karma Samithi patron Swami Chidanandapuri had given a call to Ayyappa devotees to cast their votes for the UDF candidates in constituencies where the BJP was not strong to ensure the defeat of the CPM candidates. However, other leaders of the Sabarimala Karma Samithi and BJP had objected to the suggestion.

Constituencies where NDA’s vote-share declined compared to 2016 Assembly Polls

Constituency 2016 Assembly Polls 2019 LS Polls
Kasargod 197574 176049
Kannur 88949 68509
Vadakara 120363 80128
Alathur 150273 89832
Kozhikode 158885 161216
Wayanad 93291 78818
Idukki 185160 133545
Mavelikkara 185160 133546
Kollam 130300 103339
Constituencies where NDA’s vote-share increased
Constituency 2016 2019
Attingal 176535 748081
Thiruvananthapuram 267303 316142
Pathanamthitta 190872 297396
Kottayam 165409 155135
Thrissur 205041 293822
Ponnani 83228 110003
Palakkad 190288 218556

A look into the rise in vote share of the NDA/BJP over the LS elections

(Source : The New Sunday Express 26.05.2019)

However, it seems, there is a steep decline in BJP votes in constituencies like Kasaragod, Kannur, adakara, Alathur and few others where the opinion polls suggested a victory for the LDF candidates. The Sabarimala issue, that hurt the sentiments of the devotees, had created discontent among the Hindu majority, which was considered the vote-base of the CPM. According to Sabarimala Karma Samithi leaders, many families, who were staunch supporters of the CPM, parted ways with the party after the Sabarimala agitation. The BJP was expecting a steep increase in its vote-share in view of the possible polarisation of majority votes. However, the party’s vote-share increased only marginally, leaving the leaders disenchanted.

According to BJP leaders, the devotees, who were annoyed by the CPM stand on the Sabarimala issue, cast their votes in favour of the UDF candidates to ensure the defeat of the CPM. This shift in votes has poured cold water on the poll prospects of the BJP at least in Thiruvanan-thapuram and Pathanamthitta. “Discontent was brewing among the traditional vote-base of the CPM over the handling of the Sabarimala issue. We hoped this will help us cross the 20 per cent mark in vote-share. But a major chunk of the votes went to the UDF as they thought only the UDF can spoil the chances of the CPM,” said a senior BJP leader.

In Dharmadom, the constituency of the Chief Minister, the CPM’s vote-share declined from 87,329 in 2016 to 74,730, says a BJP leader. “It is not our votes that got drained. A section of the traditional voters of the CPM voted for the UDF to ensure the defeat of the CPM leaders. There was an anti-Pinarayi wave in the State and the UDF benefited from it. In Palakkad, the discontent among the supporters of the CPM over the Sabarimala issue was evident,” said the BJP spokesperson.

The RSS attempt to micro-manage the campaign and resources by deploying its cadre had forced to hibernation the hardcore BJP workers who could gauge the trends at the grassroots. This had slackened the campaign machinery, sources said. Flags in assigning senior BJP leaders for managing the campaign have drawn flak at a preliminary post-poll review. For instance, leaders familiar with the trends and preferences of the voters in Thiruvananthapuram were compelled to move to other districts; the pattern was replicated elsewhere too: the resource management mode has come in for criticism. “A reported attempt to place the blame for the reversal squarély on the BJP State leadership is being pointed out as a conscious effort of the Sangh Parivar to cloak its slips in candidate selection and campaign management. Critics of the Sangh Parivar are citing the face-losing defeat Kummanam Rajasekharan and Surendran suffered in the capital and Pathanam-thitta as a case in point.”

III Severe Setback for the Left Parties: Lost Eight Per Cent of its Vote-Share

THE UDF tsunami that decimated the Left Front in the Lok Sabha polls is proving to be more cause for worry to the LDF. Apart from being reduced to just one seat, the LDF also lost around eight per cent of its vote-share, compared to the 2016 Assembly elections when it won 91 seats. In an obvious indication of traditional voters having swayed away from the Left Front this time, the difference in vote-percentage between the LDF and UDF—which was just two per cent in the 2014 LS polls—turned out to be around 12 per cent this time. The LDF, which had polled around 40.23 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, had increased its vote-share to around 43.33 per cent in the 2016 Assembly elections. But this time, the vote-share went down to just around 35.07 per cent, thereby recording a drastic dip of around eight per cent. On the other hand, the UDF had polled around 42.08 per cent in the 2014 LS polls, which had dipped to around 38.84 per cent in the 2016 Assembly elections. But, the Congress-led Front was able to significantly improve its vote-share by around nine per cent to touch 47.25 per cent during these Lok Sabha elections. The BJP-led NDA too was able to improve its status to 15.20 per cent this time from 10.85 per cent in the 2014 LS polls. The LDF, which bagged the upper hand in 91 Assembly constituencies in 2016, managed a majority in only 16 Assembly segments of the parliamentary constituencies in the State this time around. In constituencies like Attingal and Alathur, the difference in vote-share was quite evident. In Thiruvananthapuram, where the Sabarimala issue had created major ripples, the Congress candidate, Shashi Tharoor, won a majority in the CPM’s sitting Assembly segments like Kazhakoottam, Neyyattinkara and Parassala. In Kazhakoottam, the sitting seat of CPM Minister Kadakampally Surendran, Left candidate C. Divakaran was pushed to a pathetic third spot.

Similarly, in the Attingal Lok Sabha consti-tuency, considered to be a Left stronghold from where the LDF had won six of the seven Assembly segments in 2016, Left candidate A. Sampath was pushed to the second position in six Assembly segments. Only in Nedumangad —the sitting seat of C. Divakaran—Sampath could come first, that too with a meagre margin of around 700 votes. The UDF’s foray into Left bastions like Palakkad and Alathur has caused shock waves in the Left camp. In Palakkad’s Pattambi Assembly segment, which is the CPI’s sitting seat, the UDF’s V. K. Sreekandan polled 67,644 votes while the LDF’s M.B. Rajesh could secure only 50,465 votes. In 2016, the CPI’s Muhammed Muhassin had won around 45.84 per cent of the votes here.

a. LDF Failed to Secure Majority in 80 per cent Seats

Now after the poll rout, the LDF is in for another shocker. An analysis of the election results reveals that the LDF candidates failed to secure a lead in 80 per cent of the sitting seats. Compounding the CPM-led alliance’s worry, bypolls are due to be held in the six seats from where the sitting MLAs have been elected to the Lok Sabha. Further worsening matters, four of these seats are held by the UDF. Of the total 140 Assembly constituencies spread across 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala, the LDF was able to secure lead only in 16 sitting Assembly seats in the Lok Sabha polls. However, the margin of lead has considerably diminished in all these 16 Assembly constituencies. The Front has a total tally of 91 seats in the Assembly. In southern Kerala, the LDF was able to maintain a lead of 759 votes in Nedumangad Assembly constituency. It is the sitting seat of C. Divakaran of the CPI, who won the 2016 polls by a margin of 3621 votes. In the capital city, the Front was pushed to the third position in Kazhakkoottam, Thiruvananthapuram and Vattiyoorkkavu. Meanwhile, the BJP has secured a lead of 12,041 votes in Nemom Assembly constituency in Thiruvananthapuram. Sitting MLA O. Rajagopal of the BJP won the seat by a margin of 8671 votes in 2016. This is also the only Assembly seat in which the BJP secured a majority in this year’s LS polls.

The other Assembly constituencies in which the LDF was able to secure lead are Adoor, Kayamkulam, Cherthala, Vaikom, Shoranur, Ottappalam, Kongad, Malampuzha, Thalassery, Dharmadam, Mattannur, Kanhangad, Thrikkari-pur, Payyannur and Kalliyasseri. Among the list, Dharmadam in the Kannur LS constituency is the sitting seat of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who was elected from there in 2016 with a majority of 37,905 votes. However, in the Lok Sabha polls this year, the CPM candidate was able to manage a lead of a mere 4000 votes. The CPM’s lone winner in the Lok Sabha polls is A. M. Ariff who is the sitting MLA of Aroor. However, he also trailed by a margin of 648 votes in the Lok Sabha polls in his own constituency. Among the other constituencies where the bypolls will be conducted, in Manjeswaram, the LDF is at the third position in the LS polls behind the UDF and BJP. In Ernakulam, sitting MLA Hibi Eden, who emerged victorious, secured a healthy lead of 31,176 votes over his opponent, P. Rajeev, in the LS polls. In Pala, where the bypoll will be held, the UDF is well ahead of the LDF with a lead of 33,472 votes. Meanwhile, in Konni Assembly constituency, where bypoll will be held after sitting MLA Adoor Prakash won the LS election from Attingal, the UDF got a slight edge over the LDF with a margin of 2721 votes.

b. CPM Admits Sabarimala Factor

Amid rumblings of dissent within following its debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, the CPM admitted that the Sabarimala factor played a major role in its drubbing. Observing that there was an erosion of its traditional vote-base, the party decided to probe the reasons that led to the defeat. In a statement issued after the party’s State Secretariat meeting, the CPM said, “Statistics show that Right-wing forces were successful in misleading a section of the faithful.” The statement, however, didn’t mention the word ‘Sabarimala’. While the admission indicated a rethink within the party as its leaders had repeatedly assured during electioneering that the Sabarimala issue will not have any impact on the election outcome, it comes at a time when the CPM leadership is facing severe criticism and calls for introspection after the party-led LDF won only one of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala. The party leadership felt that minority consolidation in favour of the UDF was not the only reason for the defeat. “Not only the minorities, a section of women and upper class Hindus also voted against the Left. That’s why there was a substantial decrease in the CPM’s vote-share,” pointed out a senior Left leader.

c. SDPI’s Rising Clout

The SDPI’s claim that they had supported the Congress-led UDF in Lok Sabha polls has strong validity if one analyses the results in consti-tuencies where the party decided not to field their candidates and support the UDF. The SDPI votes plummeted to just 80,000 this time from 2.73 lakh votes secured in 2014 indicating that the party has transferred all votes in favour of the UDF candidates in Kasaragod, Pathana-mthitta, Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Idukki, Kottayam and Thrissur. The SDPI’s Kerala State President, Abdul Majeed Faizi, has also announced that their party cadre supported the UDF candidates. The SDPI decided to support the UDF after its relationship turned sore with the CPM leadership which came down heavily on the SDPI for its alleged terrorist activities.

The SDPI, which contested only in 10 seats in the 2019 elections, has come fourth in five constituencies. In Malappuram, they secured 19,106 votes followed by 18,124 in Ponnani, 8142 in Kannur, 5544 in Vadakara and 5426 in Wayanad. An analysis of the 2014 election results shows that the SDPI had secured 2.73 lakh votes with majority of the votes from Kasaragod (9713), Pathanamthitta (11,353), Kollam (12,812), Idukki (10,401) and Thrissur (6894). In these (2019) elections, the SDPI leadership chose not to field candidates in these constituencies and the UDF managed to come out with thumping victory in Kasaragod, Idukki and Thrissur which were sitting seats of the CPM, most importantly the Kasaragod constituency which was held by the LDF for the last 30 years. In fact, the relations between the SDPI and CPM worsened in 2018 when Students Federation of India (SFI) leader Abhimanyu of Maharajas College was allegedly murdered by the SDPI workers on the college campus on July 1.

d. Religion and Caste-based Organisations

With the UDF winning the elections in the State with a huge margin, the role played by religion and caste-based organisations has to be taken into account. The SNDP, the prominent organisation of the powerful Ezhava comumuntity, was not clear in its position, oscillating between the BJP and the Left Front. The NSS, as always, openly took an equidistant stand in the elections. But it had taken an open stand regarding the Sabarimala issue with both the BJP and Congress expecting the NSS vote to be in their kitty. Ultimately it seems the NSS support has worked in favour of the Congress as both Kummanam Rajasekharan in Thiruvanantha-puram and K. Surendran in Pathanamthitta lost with huge margins.

The CPM and Left Front fielded Veena George, MLA, from Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha seat expecting the outright support of the Orthodox Church as was during the last Assembly elections. In the 2016 Assembly elections, the Orthodox Church had openly stated that Veena was the ‘daughter of the Church’, which worked in her favour as she trounced Sivadasan Nair. However, the Orthodox Church did not extend its support wholeheartedly to Veena this time, resulting in her drubbing. The Catholic community seems to have voted extensively in support of the UDF. In constituencies like Ernakulam, Chalakkudy and Thrissur, which have a sizeable Catholic population, the UDF candidates won with good margins.

Muslim consolidation in favour of the UDF was another phenomenon witnessed in this election and the community voted extensively for the UDF. The presence of Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad helped in the consolidation of Musiim votes as he was projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UPA. A faction of the Kerala Pulayar Mahasabha (KPMS), led by Punnala Sreekumar, was extending its support to the LDF and Pinarayi Viiayan as it was in the forefront of the Women’s Wall. However, this did not help the prospects of the CPM and LDF.

e. NOTA Votes dip by One lakh

Votes under NOTA (None of the Above) option saw a considerable dip in this year’s elections than in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. While 2,10,563 NOTA votes were cast in 2014, it reduced to 1,02,436 votes this year, a difference of 1,08,127 votes. In this election, Alathur had the highest number of NOTA votes at 7722, followed by Chalakkudy at 7578 and Kottayam at 7191. Wayanad had the lowest number of NOTA votes at 2155.

At no constituency did NOTA votes exceed the winning margin this year. The only constituency where NOTA votes came close to the victory margin was in Alappuzha, where the LDF and UDF were in a neck and neck fight. Here, 6057 NOTA votes were polled, while the victory margin of the LDF’s A.M. Ariff was 9069 votes. In 2014, most NOTA votes were cast in Malappuram at 21,829, followed by Alathur at 21,417 and Pathanamthitta at 16,538. NOTA votes had also played a decisive role in the Kannur and Vadakara constituencies in 2014, as they exceeded the winning margin in the two seats.

f. LDF got Maximum Postal Votes

The postal vote was a big topic of discussion in this election after there were complaints from various quarters that the Kerala Police Association (KPA) had rigged postal votes of police personnel in favour of the LDF candidates. Of the valid 73,575 postal votes cast in this election, the LDF secured 32,051 votes while the UDF won 24,704 votes, the NDA 15,465 votes and others 1,354 votes. It was in the Kollam constituency that the maximum number of postal votes was cast (6835) followed by Mavelikkara (6746), Thiruvananthapuram (6445), Alappuzha (6206) and Kannur (5917). Surprisingly, the Election Commission also declared 11,952 postal votes across the State as invalid citing various errors and faults in the forms submitted by the voters. The highest number of invalid votes was in Alappuzha (1384) followed by Mavelikkara (1325), Attingal (1160) and Thiruvananthapuram (1088).

The LDF got maximum postal votes of 3329 in Kollam while it was 2967 votes in Alappuzha, 2900 votes in Kannur and 2780 votes in Maveli-kkara. As far as the NDA is concerned, maximum postal votes were in Thiruvananthapuram (2217) followed by Pathanamthitta (1769), Attingal’ (1579) and Alappuzha (1451).

Postal votes secured by different Fronts: total valid postal votes – 73,575; Invalid postal votes – 11,952; 6835 votes in Kollam constituency is the maximum number of postal votes cast in a constituency.

“Many postal votes were declared invalid as they did not have proper signature of the gazetted officer approving the validity of. the vote. All postal votes were thoroughly verified for discrepancies,” said the Additional Chief Electoral Officer.

g. Challenges Ahead for the Congress

The Congress and UDF, which gained tremen-dously in the elections, have to face the uphill task of rising up to the aspirations of the people who had given a landslide mandate to the party and the Front. KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran had recently said it’s a ‘fearsome result’, clearly hinting at the responsibility the people of the State have vested in the Congress and its affiliates in the UDF. The Congress knows the votes polled by its candidates were mostly anti-incumbency ones against Pinarayi and Modi. The party leadership feels that the majority and minority consolidation has taken place in its favour. While the majority voted in protest against the political stand of the Chief Minister on the Sabarimala issue, the minority votes went in favour of Rahul Gandhi, against the Narendra Modi Government and its policies. The party think-tanks were surprised that around 10 lakh votes were removed from the voters’ list and that the Left Front had meticulously planned electioneering by posting mostly Left-leaning officers for election duty. The non-functioning of the party machinery is the major reason the party leadership found behind such a large number of votes being removed from the list.

The immediate challenge before the Front is the local body polls in 2020. The Front knows it has to rise up to the level of the present man-date and for that the organisational machinery has to be intact and proper. The Congress leadership knows the performance of the elected party MPs will be a major barometer for the public to vote in its favour in the local body polls as well as the 2021 Assembly polls. Mullappally, who said priority will be given to a total revamp of the organisation from top to booth level, is seeking the support of the AICC President and his team for the same. With the party machinery in place, the Congress knows it can take on the challenge posed by the Left and the NDA in the next local body and Assembly polls. The major contention the party and the Front has to face will be the performance of the MPs. The leadership knows with a proper organisational machinery in place and the MPs performing according to the wishes of the people, a repeat of the present success is not a difficult proposition. One can only keep one’s fingers crossed.

h. Challenges ahead for the Left

The Left parties in the State should realise that the society has changed, the people have changed, their outlook and aspirations too have changed. In such a scenario the Left has to reinvent itself. Further the Left parties have to reframe their party programmes in accordance with the changes that have taken place in the polity, society and economy. Moreover state-society relations have undergone drastic changes. Political theories and ideologies that moved individuals have almost vanished or disappeared. How effectively and how soon the Left will address this reality is most important.

Another important question before the Left parties is what political alternative they can present before the common masses. Such a political alternative should be able to carry conviction with the people. Also they should explore new avenues and opportunities in tune with the changing times and needs. Unless the Left leadership in general and the CPI-M leadership in particular makes an honest intros-pection and takes urgent remedial measures, the Left parties in Kerala may find the sands under their feet running out as happened in West Bengal and Tripura.

Part-IV Concluding Observations

a. Vote-share

The vote-share of the UDF, which won 19 out of 20 seats, has jumped from 42.08 per cent in the 2014 elections to 47.25 per cent in the 2019 elections. The LDF’s share dipped from 40.23 per cent in 2014 to 35.2 per cent this time. While the BJP-led NDA failed to win even a single seat, its vote-share has gone up. In 2014, the NDA had bagged 10.85 per cent of the votes. In 2019, the Front’s share has risen to 15.20 per cent, with the BJP accounting for 12.93 per cent of the votes, as per the EC data. Partywise, the Congress took home 37.27 per cent of the votes in 2019. Five years ago, the grand old party’s Kerala unit had managed 31 per cent. The CPI-M, which contested in 16 seats in 2019 as against the 15 in 2014, also increased its individual vote-share from 22 per cent to 25.83 per cent, as per the EC data. The Communist Party of India, which failed to score a single victory, saw its vote- share dipping from eight per cent in 2014 to 6.05 per cent.

b. Position of the Left Parties

For the Left parties in Kerala it is the time for a clear introspection. Unless they adopt stringent corrective measures, they may soon be on the road to elimination. Arrogance of some topmost leaders of the Left parties and violence promoted by a section are primarily responsible for the party’s decline in the State. While the Kannur model of violence practised by party workers across the State has had a drastic impact, even other factors cannot be neglected. While instances of apparent double- speak led to a loss of credibility, a sour lack of connect with the masses too may have contributed to the rout.

The authoritarian style of functioning of the State Chief Minister also contributed a lot. For example, on issues like Sabarimala, the stand of the CM was not in tune with the ground realities prevailing in the State. The Hindus, comprising the Ezhavas and Nairs, have been the main supporters of the CPM. The way the order of the Apex Court on Sabarimala was handled by the State Government forced a large section of the Hindu women to desert the party. Further, the Left parties, unlike the past are unable to convince the people outside the party and take them into confidence. The leadership even refused to listen to the pulse of the common man; naturally the sympathisers began dwindling.

c. Position of the IUML

The IUML’s share remained constant with the party taking home 5.45 per cent of the vote. The Kerala Congress (Mani) and the RSP accounted for 2.07 per cent and 2.45 per cent respectively this time, a slight increase from 2014. In Vadakara, one of the keenly watched constituencies, K. Muraleedharan cornered over 5.26 lakh votes, increasing the UDF share from 43.48 per cent (Mullapally Ramachandran in 2014) to 49.6 per cent.

d. Wayanad, Alathur and Trivandrum

In high-profile Wayanad, the candidature of Rahul Gandhi ensured that the UDF’s share climbed to a whopping 64 per cent from 41.2 per cent. Ramya Haridas of the UDF wrested Alathur from the LDF by claiming over 50 per cent of the votes. The BJP, despite ending up third in Pathanamthitta, managed to bag almost 30 per cent of the votes. The same went for Thrissur where actor Suresh Gopi increased the saffron party’s share to around 28 per cent. In Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor, performing a hat-trick, increased his vote-share from 34.2 per cent to around 41 per cent in the process.

e. Theory of Minority Consolidation

The popular narrative was that it was a ‘minority consolidation’ which facilitated the dream-like run of the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the rout of the Left Democratic Front in the Lok Sabha elections in Kerala. This reductionist view seems to be a gross under-reading of a very decisive political vote and a devaluation of a significant democratic resistance by a sizeable chunk of the electorate.

The “minority consolidation theory” gained traction during the unending TV debates that followed the exit poll results. It says that one of the two major reasons for the spectacular victory of the UDF with a success rate of 95 per cent was the consolidation of the ‘Muslim vote in Malabar and the Christian vote in the central Kerala and coastal regions’ of the State.

f. Other Solid Reasons

The other reason, according to this line of thinking, is that the Sabarimala effect forced a substantial section of the Hindu faithful to vote for the Congress. This, the claim goes, was to teach the LDF a lesson for tinkering with a Hindu religious practice. In effect, the UDF wave was triggered by the “majority consolidation” originating from a religious cause and the ‘minority consolidation’ originating from fear. However, in the popular narrative the minority consolidation is communal and other is not. True, Muslims and Christians, who made up 45 per cent of the electorate, did vote for the UDF in higher numbers this time than in any other recent elections. Dubbing this as communal would be unfair. Rather, it was a decisive political vote which carried a clear political message that a majority of the minority communities in Kerala did not want Modi as their Prime Minister; moreover elections in a democracy are exactly for this : to choose your government and your ruler.

More than a pro-UDF or anti-LDF vote, this was a anti-Modi vote. It was a decisive political act aimed to unseat the BJP governance at the national level.


1. Arun Lakshman, ‘Minority, Majority Consolidation worked in favour of UDF’, The New Indian Express, 24.05.2019.
2. Anil S., ‘Post’ Defeat Rumblings in LDF Camps. Ibid.
3. Majoj Viswanathan, ‘Aggressive Campaigning Fails to Yield Results for NDA’, Ibid.
4. Ramdas P., ‘BDJS aids NDA increase Vote-Share’, Ibid.
5. Dileep Kumar, ‘NOTA Votes dip by 1 Lakh’, Ibid.
6. Dhinesh Kallungal, A Repeat of David V/S Goliath in Alathoor` Ibid.
7. Arun Lakshmanan, ‘How Caste and Religion played a Part in Elections in State’, Ibid.
8. Anandan S., ’Left on the Mat in Central Kerala’, The Hindu, 24.05.2019.
9. Basheer K.P.M., ‘Malabar gives huge Margins to UDF’, Ibid.
10. Anand G., ’UDF makes a clean Sweep in South Kerala’, Ibid.
11. Prabhash J., ‘In the changing Scenario there is need for the Left to Reinvent’, The New Sunday Express, 26.05.2019.
12. Manoj Vishwanathan, ‘For Growth BJP needs to look Beyond’, Ibid.
13. Arun Lakshmanan, ‘Congress Tall Task’, Ibid.
14. Anil S. and Rajesh Abraham, ‘Last Fort, Last Chance’, Ibid.
15. John Mary, ’Congress needs Kerala-style Coalition in India’, Deccan Chronicle, 25.05.2019.

Dr M.R. Biju is the Dean, School of Social Sciences, Dean, School of Legal Studies, and Head, Department of Public Administration and Policy Studies, Central University of Kerala, Kasaragod. M.R.B. Anantha Padmanabha the Deputy Editor, South Asian Journal of Social-Political Studies (SAISOPOS).

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