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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 17, New Delhi, April 10, 2021

Changing Criteria for Ticketing in Assembly Elections: The Case of Kerala in the Midst of Intense Competition| Jos Chathukulam, Manasi Joseph and Rekha V

Saturday 10 April 2021

by Jos Chathukulam, Manasi Joseph and Rekha V*

Abstract 

The candidate selection process and the issues that erupt within the political parties concerned as part of this can serve as a harbinger of the election outcomes, character, and style of the upcoming political regime in Kerala including the stability and longevity of the newly elected government. Despite a generational shift in the candidate profile in all the three major political fronts in the state, the representation of women in elections in Kerala remains poor. Similarly the contagion effect in the generational shift in the ticketing of candidates was followed by all the three major political fronts; but the same was not applied to increase the presence of women candidates. 

Political Background

In the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, election fever has gripped Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal and Puducherry. Elections for the 140 seats in Kerala, 234 seats in Tamil Nadu and 30 in Puducherry will be held on April 6 in a single phase. In West Bengal, elections to the 249 seats will be held in eight phases with polling starting on March 27 and ending on April 29. In Assam, elections for 126 seats will be in three phrases starting from April 1 to 16. While each assembly elections are crucial for the ruling and opposition parties and the public at large, the assembly elections in the state of Kerala, considered being the last fortress of Left parties in India has its own significance. Left Front has already lost its once celebrated bastions in West Bengal [1] and Tripura, [2] the only hope to keep themselves relevant and happening in the political sphere is to revive their fortunes in Kerala. So, the state assembly election is proving to be a litmus test for Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by Communist Party of India (Marxist). For the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by Congress, the assembly elections are a do or die situation. Much like the LDF, winning assembly elections is crucial for UDF to stay politically relevant. Then the emergence of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the subsequent surge in the support of BJP is making the election into a fierce competition for both LDF and UDF. Though BJP is projecting itself as a third alternative front for some time in the state but so far, they have managed to obtain only one seat out of 140 in the last Kerala assembly elections held in 2016. Meanwhile, over the years, the party has witnessed a surge in their support and is hopeful of translating them into votes.

The general trend in Kerala during assembly election is to vote alternate parties to power, that is switching between LDF and UDF. This shows that the electorate of the state is largely bipolar in political character. In 1980, both the Left and the Congress realized that they need the help of small parties to form the government and for this they need to form alliance with local and regional parties to form a coalition and thus LDF and UDF were formed. Since 1980s, both LDF and UDF were voted to power alternatively. In other words Kerala has not voted any party to power for a second consecutive term since then. With the emergence of BJP as a third front, the electorate is on the path of becoming of tri-polar from bipolar.

The incumbent LDF government which has managed to beat the anti-incumbency wave in the recent local government elections is hoping that the trend will continue in the upcoming state assembly elections. The series of controversies in the run-up to the local government elections along with the high-voltage campaign by the Opposition parties against the Left front accusing the involvement of Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) in the controversial gold smuggling case [3] and dollar scam [4], proved to be a headache to the government. The LDF government has accused the central agencies probing into the gold smuggling exceeding their jurisdiction to malign and destabilize the constitutionally elected government in Kerala (Unnithan, 2020). But the local government election results proved that these issues didn’t change the mind of the politically literate voters in the state. The win also ascertained that the LDF government handling of the Covid -19 pandemic, especially the welfare measures during the pandemic has been a huge success and became one of the factors for LDF in the local government polls. In addition to that, the induction of Kerala Congress (Mani) as a major ally into the LDF from UDF has also proved beneficial for the LDF in this regard.

However, the UDF feels there is a strong anti-incumbency wave and is hopeful of the support extended by minorities. It is hoping to consolidate anti-communist votes by rigging up the women’s entry to Sabarimala [5] and the issues surrounding the awarding of deep-sea fishing contract with the US firm EMCC [6]. UDF is hopeful that the Left inclined coastal belt which is said to be upset about the deal may switch their loyalty towards UDF this time.

Meanwhile, elections be it local, assembly or general election, the battle is no longer between UDF and LDF alone. They both have a new political rival in the form of the NDA led by BJP. While BJP has managed to form governments in various states in the country, states like Kerala have proved to be a tough nut to crack. The party’s national leadership is pulling all stops to improve the tally of the BJP in the state. This time, BJP is focusing on 42 assembly seats where it had won more than 20 per cent votes in the recent local government elections. Like previous elections, BJP is eyeing to consolidate Hindu votes by highlighting issue like Sabarimala women’s entry and love jihad [7].

The upcoming assembly elections are proving to be a fierce contest for LDF, UDF and the BJP alike. As the election battle getting tougher and tougher, political parties in the state have come up with strategies to increase their winnability and their focus has been primarily on candidate selection and various criterions to improve the benchmark. Following the announcement of poll dates, LDF, UDF and NDA were busy making preparations and arrangement on war-footing. All parties were busy conducting seat-sharing talks, solving internal disputes and candidate selection- the toughest task of all as it can make or break party equations that determines the overall electoral outcome.

Tough Competition and its Impact on Candidate Selection Procedure

The election outcomes, character and style of the upcoming political regime and the stability of the newly elected government can be assessed from the pre-election process and activities carried out by the political parties especially the strategies and tactics they deploy when it comes to the fielding and selection of candidates for elections. The general consensus is that political parties should select candidates that represent the best interest of voters. But the reality is far from true and one of the main reasons for this is the highly centralized party system where candidates are typically decided by a few party elites and veterans. It shows the ‘decline of intraparty democracy’ to an extent. The parties national and regional are highly centralized and the decision-making is also highly centralized. Nevertheless each political party has tried to bring in new rules for improving their tally as they know that the politically conscious electorate in the state can no longer be taken for granted. Swing votes are also detrimental for the election victory. In the midst of an intense competition the profile and political competency of the candidates matters the most. It is this factor that have made LDF, UDF and NDA to deploy new strategies in fielding candidates and it has been evident while handpicking the candidates for the upcoming assembly elections.

LDF Candidate Selection Procedure

The candidate selection process of CPI (M) concentrated more or less in the CPI (M) district committees. In early March, the district committees had submitted a panel of potential candidates to the CPI (M) State committee. After that it had sent an amended list back to the district committees. The district committees send the proposals back with their suggestions to the party. The State secretariat and State Committee vetted the district committees’ proposals and forward the names of likely contestants to the Polit Bureau and the final approval came from there. The sub-district committees were ignored in the consultation process. The party maintains that the list has been vetted and debated at various party levels and dubbed it as an excellent democratic process in reality various other factors were involved.

Maximum Two Term — The Key Criteria for Candidate Selection for LDF
On March 10, the CPI (M) released its first list of 83 candidates for the 140-member Kerala legislative assembly elections and the remaining three candidates in the consecutive days. The candidate list has several new faces as it dropped the sitting MLAs including cabinet ministers citing a maximum two-term policy. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and six other ministers including K KShailaja, [8] T P Ramakrishnan [9], MM Mani, [10] Kadakampally Surendran, [11] J Mercy Kutty Amma [12] and A C Moideen [13] are contesting in the assembly polls scheduled be held on April 6, 2021. Meanwhile, a total of 33 sitting Legislators, including five present Cabinet ministers have not been renominated this time. Instead 38 new candidates are in the poll fray. The reason cited by Party for the exclusion citing two-term policy is said to emphasis the stand that the parliamentary [14] and non-parliamentary duties are both equally important and making it clear that those not nominated should play an active role in strengthening the party and the organisation. The policy is seen as a measure to address the parliamentary revisionism [15]. Party believes that the strict adherence to two-term policy has helped the CPI (M) to bring in fresh leaders to electoral politics while sending a message that that party is above individuals. However, the candidacy of CM’s son-in-law P. A Mohammed Riyaz [16], from Beypore in Kozhikode and R Bindu [17] from Irinjalakuda, [18]who is also the wife of the LDF convener and CPM state secretary A Vijayaraghavan [19] has raised a few eyebrows. There have also been criticism that aides close to CM got special preference in candidate selection process. The CPI (M) which had contested 90 of the 140 seats in the 2016 assembly elections and won 58 of them is fighting in 85 constituencies this time. This time CPI (M) has given up a few seats to accommodate new allies Kerala Congress (Mani) and Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD). Despite repeated reiterations that party is above the individual, the influence and authority that CM has over the party is evident. LDF has made it clear that it will be seeking votes in name of the works and policies of the LDF government. The decision to field young faces also in a way implies the confidence of the party in its capabilities and strategies. Out of the 83 candidates fielded by CPI (M), 57 of them are above the age of 50 while 24 of them are beyond 60. There are only four youth candidates aged under 30. Among the 83 candidates include 42 graduates, 14 postgraduates, two medical doctors and PhD holders each, one architect as well as 28 candidate who have a degree in law. The CPI, a major ally of LDF has also adhered to the two-term policy for its candidates is contesting in 25 seats.

The Impact of New Candidate Selection Process and Strategy in LDF

The new candidate selection procedure within the CPI (M) has ruffled a few feathers. Dissent was brewing among the party cadres over the candidate selection process and denial of chance to legislators who completed two consecutive terms in assembly. The kind of dissent expressed by the upset party cadres was unprecedented within the CPI (M) this time. Poster war and public anger and resentment from party workers that too in the public domain have been a strong one this time. The last time party saw such an uproar was in the 2006 assembly elections when V S Achutanandan [20] was denied a seat to contest in the polls. The vehement protests and poster war, something unheard in a cadre-based party like CPI (M) suggest that the new candidate selection strategy has not gone down well.

Five ministers have been denied seats— TM Thomas Isaac [21], E P Jayarajan [22], C Ravindranath [23], G Sudhakaran [24] and AK Balan [25], as the party decided not to provide seats to those who had been elected twice consecutively. Following the exclusion of Thomas Isaac and G. Sudhakaran there were protests and poster campaigns against the decision. There was intense speculation that P K Jameela [26], wife of AK Balan will be contesting from Tharoor constituency in Palakkad. Balan has been contesting from this seat since 2001 and this time he couldn’t as the recent party norms bars a legislator from contesting elections more than two times in a row. Once the speculation became rife that the State Committee was mooting for Jameela as the candidate, the CPI (M) workers in Palakkad protested. They even put up posters against the decision stating that the party will receive backlash if it misuses its power to turn Palakkad into a family property. (Emmanuel, 2021). As the resentment grew, the district committee bowed to the pressure from the party members who felt that bringing a family member to contest would be an insult to party workers who have toiled day and night for the party.

Posters were up against the candidacy of K Radhakrishnan from Chelakkara, a Scheduled Caste reserved assembly constituency in Thrissur, Kerala. Radhakrishnan has represented Chelakkara for four terms since 1996 and he was the SC/ST affairs minister from 1996 to 2001 and also served as the Speaker of Kerala Assembly from 2006 to 2011. In 2016, the seat was retained by another CPI (M) candidate but the poll share dipped. Considering, Chelakkara where CPM has been undefeated since 1996, the party chose the four-time MLA Radhakrishnan, who has been staying away from elections for the one term. Following party’s decision, posters in Chelakara suggested that money power won and democracy failed.

The Party’s decision to allot seats in Kuttiyadi, [27] and Ranni [28], both sitting seats of CPI (M) to Kerala Congress (M), has also not gone down well with party cadres. Ever since the seat sharing talks began in Kuttiyadi, the local party workers have been asking the local leadership to field a CPI (M) candidate with strong roots in the constituency. The cadres wanted to field K Kunhahamed Kutty, District Panchayat President as the candidate but the party decided to offer it to Kerala Congress (M), the new constituent in LDF. It paved way for massive protests by hundreds of CPI (M) workers including women. (Times News Network, March 9, 2021). As the protests escalated, the Kerala Congress (M) ceded the seat in Kuttiyadi to CPI (M).

Party workers were deeply unhappy with the process of ‘parachuting candidates’ (Koop and Bittner 2011) without consultation with them. For instance, party cadres wanted to field CPI (M) district committee member T.M. Siddique in Ponnani, Malappuram district. But the party decided to field P Nandakumar, national secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) without taking the party workers into confidence. Despite the feverish protest, party has not changed its decision has decided to throw its weight behind Nandakumar. The simmering discontent within the party show the weakened party structure and above all the dearth of internal democracy.

Candidate Selection Process of UDF

Following the poll debacle in local government elections, the Congress party leadership decided to rethink the strategies for the candidate selection procedure for Kerala Assembly Elections. The party’s decision to field candidates as per the orders of poll managers instead of fielding candidates with roots and popularity in their own panchayat had backfired in the local polls. This forced the party leaders and allies to deviate from the procedure of selecting candidates based on group affiliations and closeness to ‘party elites and leaders’ and instead decided to lend an ear to the ground level party workers. That is why All India Congress Committee (AICC) sent three agencies to Kerala to carry out a survey on the probable candidates across the 140 constituencies considered for the assembly election in the state. Based on the report and feedback given by the agencies, three to four candidates were shortlisted for each constituency. The AICC leadership compared the list of probable candidates submitted by the KPCC leadership with findings of the survey by agencies. Winnability and acceptance of the candidates were primarily assessed in the survey. The name of the shortlisted candidates was then sent to the screening committee of AICC for the final approval. Though the general perception is that the final call is taken by AICC, in reality it is the ‘congress high command’ that had the final say.

On March 14, congress released the first list of candidates for 86 seats in the upcoming assembly elections in the state. The Congress list has got 46 candidates between the age group of 25-50 years. More than 55 per cent of them are fresh faces. However, Congress has offered no sitting seat, except Irikkur in Kannur to the new entrants. All sitting MLAs of congress, except K C Joseph will contest in this election. There are also 22 candidates in the age group between 51 years to 60 years, 15 candidates in the age group between 61 -70 years and three seniors who are above 70 years of age. There are two PhD holders, two MBBS degree holders and 42 graduates, similar to that of CPI (M).Despite the claims by the leadership that 60 per cent representation will be given to youths, new faces and women candidates, it has not been met in the case of providing seats to the women where only nine have been given the ticket akin to the 2016 Assembly elections. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a major ally of the UDF, had announced that its candidates will contest in 27 seats. The candidate profile offer a picture of a mix of young and old. Though IUML norm was to omit three-time MLAs in the elections, senior leaders like P K Kunhalikutty, [29] deputy opposition leader M K Muneer [30] and League State General Secretary K P A Majeed were given exemption. IUML after 25 years have fielded a women candidate, Noorbina Rasheed [31] as its choice for Kozhikode South.

Criterion for Candidate Selection Process in UDF

UDF had two main criterion. First norm was that no tickets will be given to candidates who have lost elections in a consecutive row and the second one was not to allow sitting Member of Parliaments (MPs) to contest in the assembly elections. Though the party high command decided not to field sitting MPs in assembly elections, it had to relax the norm for K Muraleedharan, [32] a sitting MP from Vadakara Constituency. The party leadership was unable to zero in on winnable candidates for Nemom, [33] a BJP stronghold and the refusal of senior leaders to contest from this constituency forced the high command to relax the norm (Philip, 2021).

The Impact of New Candidate Selection Process and Strategy in UDF

The candidate list of UDF stood out from the rest in terms of presence of many young faces and showed a generational shift despite the presence of a few senior leaders. However, the groupism and factionalism within the party, especially at the state committee played the spoilsport. During the candidate selection process itself the differences and disagreements cropped up between the leaders of Congress (Antony) [34] and Congress (Indira) [35] groups and party high command. In earlier elections, list given by Congress (A) and (I) camps were usually approved by the high command after a few round of discussions but this time it became irrelevant, this time dominant influence of high command made the process more complicated. Congress (A) and (I) camps were reluctant to completely accept the fact that candidates should be selected based on the AICC survey and the names suggested by groups can’t be considered if they don’t figure in the AICC survey report.

The rift within the Congress party in Kerala over the selection of candidate came to the forefront after senior Congress leader K Sudhakaran, Congress MP from Kannur, Kerala alleged that the seats were distributed among members of certain groups within the party. Senior Party leader P C Chacko resigned from Congress party, alleging group interest in deciding party candidates for the upcoming assembly elections. Chacko said that he is quitting the party over undemocratic ways employed to choose the candidates. There has also been widespread allegation that the candidate list has not been discussed with the State Congress Committee and there is no democracy left in the Congress. The groupism between Congress (A) group headed by former CM Oommen Chandy and Congress (I) group led by senior leader Ramesh Chennithala, who is also the Opposition leader in the state delayed the candidate selection process to an extent.
Senior party leaders alleged that the groupism, which has been always been a bane of the Congress party will cost the party dearly in upcoming election too. While the public perception was that the party high command had the final say, in reality party insiders feel that it had remained as a mute spectator to the groupism in the party. Vijayan Thomas, a former general secretary of the Congress also left party alleging factionalism in the State Congress. Vijayan joined the BJP while Chacko joined Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Seat -sharing talks between UDF constituents and the inordinate delay and uncertainty in the finalization of candidates has also showed the disunity within the UDF. The decision of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee to offer Elathur and Perambara to Nationalist Congress Kerala led by Mani C Kappan and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has led to a conflict in the Congress party in Kozhikode district. A fierce war of words between Congress (A) and (I) over its candidates for Irukkur seat is another shame for the UDF. Congress recently witnessed a mass resignation over the party’s candidate pick in Irrikur in Kannur. There has been a rebellion in the party over the fielding of Sanjeev Joseph in Irrikkur, which was against the wishes of certain members of the party, who wanted another leader Sony Sebastian to fight the polls. The “A” group is against the candidacy of Sajeev Joseph of the “I” group. Congress “A” wants Sony Sebastian to fight the polls. The stalemate over Irikkur is a perfect example of the ‘extreme groupism’ in Congress in Kerala (Times News Network, March 17, 2021).
In a major embarrassment to the Congress in Kerala, Mahila Congress President Lathika Subhash resigned from the post following denial of Ettumanoor [36] seat to her. (Nazer, 2021). The senior leader also tonsured her head sitting at the front courtyard of the party office as a mark of protest for denying ticket. All this highlights the democratic deficit within the party and the growing discontent and weak organisation structure of the Congress Party in general.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the largest ally of the UDF too have witnessed discontent brewing within the party, a practice which was unheard within the party circles. For instance, there was strong resistance from the IUML leaders in Kasargod against the decision to field K M Shaji in Kasargod. Similarly there was protest against fielding V E Abdul Gafoor, son of former PWD minister V K Ebrahimkunju [37] in Kalamassery. IUML leaders in Koduvally protested against the candidacy of K M Muneer from Koduvally (Unnikrishnan and Rajeev 2021). Such discontent within IUML is a new phenomenon as the decision of the IUML president [38] is the final word. But this time it was the opposite as following the protests league had to incorporate some changes.

Candidate Selection Process for NDA

Following the announcement by Election Commission, BJP’s central election committee directed the district level groups to prepare a list of potential candidates for the polls. The directive was that the list of candidates from grassroots workers to office-bearers with public reach should figure in the list, demography and voter composition also were taken into account. The BJP is contesting 115 seats. It has shared the remaining seats with the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and the Kamaraj Congress, its main allies. The BJP’s candidate list is filled with technocrats, former law enforcers, celebrities, influencers, and hardcore party persons. It has fielded 13 women candidates. The candidacy of Metroman E Sreedharan from Palakkad is the major highlight of this election. [39]

Criterion for Candidate Selection in NDA 

Popularity of candidates with higher chances of securing victory with primary focus of the party with its stress that the candidate should not have any criminal background. The candidates were first shortlisted at district level, then in the state level and it was scrutinized by an internal committee of senior leaders. Later it was forwarded to the BJP high command and then to central election committee. When the first candidate list of BJP was announced senior BJP leader Sobha Surendran who was at loggerheads with the state BJP leaders gave a sarcastic response as it omitted her name. Sobha even criticized the decision to field BJP state president K Surendran in two constituencies — Manjeshwaram [40] and Konni, a privilege no other senior party leader in the state has been bestowed with. However, in the last minute, following the intervention from the Centre, it decided to field Sobha Surendran in Kazhakootam [41]. Meanwhile, RSS ideologue R Balashankar accused the BJP leaders in the state of entering into a deal with CPI (M) for electoral gains.

Shifting Pattern of Partners in LDF, UDF and NDA in Kerala Assembly Elections in 2016 and 2021 

The seat sharing in connection with 2021 assembly elections has been a costly affair for CPI (M). The Kerala Congress (M) which has been a long-standing ally of the UDF, had crossed over to LDF in October last year (Divakaran, 2020). The CPI (M) was under intense pressure to give away some of its seats to Kerala Congress (M) and Loktantra Janata Dal (LJD) to keep them happy and to strengthen LDF. Earlier LDF had allocated 13 seats to Kerala Congress (Mani) but owing to protest in Kuttiyadi, it ceded the seat to CPI (M). The CPI (M) has generously offered its sitting and winning seats to Kerala Congress (M) this time. CPI (M) has given away its seats in Ranni, Irikkur, Perumbavoor and Chalakkudy to KC (M). The CPI, the second largest constituent in LDF gave away two seats — Kanjirapally and Irikkur to KC (M). The CPI (M) also gave away three of its sitting seats — Koothuparamba, Kalpetta and Vadakara to LJD. Though parties like LJD have no mass base in Kerala, it has individual leaders capable of winning select constituencies in the state.

Political observers and analyst in the state said that such a generous attitude from the part of CPI (M) when it comes to allocation of seats. It is understood that CPI (M) is showing much generosity to Kerala Congress (M) with the intention of grabbing the votes of Christian Community belt in Central Travancore. In 2016, CPI (M) had contested in 92 seats including independents. At that time party fielded candidates with official symbol in 84 constituencies and independents in eight seats. In 2021, CPI (M) is contesting in 86 seats.

 In 2021, UDF led by Congress party is contesting in 93 seats; in 2016 it contested in 87 seats. That is Congress has added 6 more seats to its kitty this time. Among other constituents of UDF, a total of 27 seats have been allotted to IUML. This time IUML has got three more seats compared to 2016 assembly polls. Kerala Congress has been allotted 10 seats and five seats were given to Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), two seats to Nationalist Congress Party (Kappan) and one seat to Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) of India Communist Marxist Party (CMP) and Kerala Congress (Jacob).
In NDA, BJP is contesting in 115 seats in the 2021 assembly elections in Kerala. Last assembly elections it contested in just 98 seats. BDJS, the key ally of BJP in Kerala contested in 37 seats in the last assembly elections is contesting in 21 seats this time. (Table No: 1 for more details regarding shifting trends in seat sharing among constituents of LDF, UDF & NDA in Kerala Assembly Elections in 2016 and 2021).

Table No: 1. Shifting Pattern of Partners in LDF, UDF and NDA in Kerala Assembly Elections in 2016 and 2021 

Name of Front / Alliance  Number of Seats Allotted in 2016 Number of Seats Allotted in 2021
Political Parties under LDF, UDF and NDA Total Seats Allotted Seats Allotted for Male Seats Allotted for Female Number of Seats Allotted Seats Allotted for Male Seats Allotted for Female
A Partners in LDF
1 Communist Party of India (Marxist) 92* 80 12 86* 74 12
2 Communist Party of India 27 23 4 25 23 2
3 Kerala Congress (M) It was with UDF in 2016 elections and shifted to LDF in 2021 12 11 1
4 Janata Dal (Secular) 5 4 1 4 4 0
5 Nationalist Congress Party 4 4 0 3 3 0
6 Loktantrik Janata Dal It was formed in 2018 by merging with Janata Dal United 3 3 0
7 Indian National League 3 3 0 3 3 0
8 Congress (Secular) 1 1 0 1 1 0
9 Kerala Congress (B) 1 1 0 1 1 0
10 Revolutionary Socialist Party (Leninist) 1 1 0 1 1 0
11 Janadhipathya Kerala Congress 4 4 0 1 1 0
12 Kerala Congress (Skaria Thomas) 1 1 0 No seat was allotted in 2021elections.
13 Communist Marxist Party (Aravindakshan) 1 1 0 After the 2016 elections, it had been merged with CPI (M).
Total 140 123 (88%) 17 (12%) 140 125 (89%) 15 (11%)
B Partners in UDF
1 Indian National Congress 87 78 9 93 83 10
2 Indian Union Muslim League 24 24 0 27 26 1
3 Kerala Congress (Joseph) It was formed only in 2020 as a splinter group of Kerala Congress (M). 10 10 0
4 Revolutionary Socialist Party 5 5 0 5 5 0
5 Nationalist Congress Kerala It was formed only in 2021 as splinter group of Nationalist Congress Party. 2 2 0
6 Kerala Congress (Jacob) 1 1 0 1 1 0
7 Communist Marxist Party 1 1 0 1 1 0
8 Revolutionary Marxist Party of India In 2016 elections, it was not a partner of UDF& contested alone. 1 0 1
9 Kerala Congress (M) 15 15 0 It was with UDF in 2016 elections and shifted to LDF in 2021.
10 Janata Dal United 7 7 0 It was with UDF in 2016 elections and shifted to LDF in 2018.
Total 140 131 (94%) 9 (6%) 140 128 (91%) 12 (9%)
C Partners in NDA
1 Bharatiya Janata Party 98 88 10 115 101 14
2 Bharath Dharma Jana Sena 36 35 1 21 18 3
3 All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam In 2016 elections, it was not a partner of NDA. 2 0 2
4 Kerala Kamaraj Congress In 2016 elections, it was not a partner of NDA. 1 1 0
5 Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha 1 0 1 1 0 1
6 Kerala Congress (Thomas) 4 4 0 It was merged with Kerala Congress (Joseph) in 2021 and officially recognized as Kerala Congress.
7 Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi (Rajan Babu) 1 1 0 It parted from NDA in 2019.
Total 140 128 (91%) 12 (9%) 140 120 (86%) 20 (14%)

* Including Independents (eight in 2016 and nine in 2021)

Source: Computed and compiled from Kerala State Election Commission, Website

Skewed Women Representation

Despite generational shift which gave more representation to the youth and new strategy for candidate selection process employed by LDF, UDF and NDA, the representation of women in all these political fronts is disappointing. Women voters outnumber men in the electoral pool of Kerala. There are 1,41,62,025 women voters, 1,32,83,724 men voters and 290 transgender voters. Apart from offering poll sops to its women voter base, no political front in Kerala has pushed for a fairer representation in politics and elections. In Kerala, a total of 957 candidates are in the poll fray in 2021 assembly polls and out of it there are only 105 women candidates. In the 2016 assembly election there were 118 women candidates.

If one specifically looks at the women candidates contesting in the three major political fronts — it would be just 57 women candidates. In the 2016 assembly elections LDF allotted 12 per cent of its seats to women candidates but in 2021 elections it has come down to 11 per cent. In the case of UDF, in 2016, only 6 per cent seats were allotted to women candidates while in 2021 assembly polls 9 per cent of seats were allotted to women. In NDA, in 2016 assembly elections, 9 per cent of seats were allotted to women candidates and in 2021 it rose to 14 per cent.

Whenever, the underrepresentation of women in politics is raised, the political parties resort to the unfair tactic of fielding women in seats where winnability is zero. Patriarchy and male chauvinistic approach of the male members in various political leadership is also to be equally blamed for this trend and even in cadre base parties like CPI (M), the patriarchal notion and ideology is preventing women from contesting polls. The Congress party is no different. From hurling misogynistic words to women politicians in rival parties to even shunting its own candidates is a norm for the state leadership. The recent example would be that of denying seat to Lathika Subhash [42] in the upcoming 2021 assembly elections. Lathika belongs to the “A” group led by senior congress leader Oommen Chandy.

Women who have been active in political spaces in Kerala feel that people, especially men tend to feel that it is not possible to trust women leaders when it comes to obtaining undue favours and adjustments as they seldom fall for such practices or are reluctant to get involved in dealing that can get them into trouble. On the other hand, male leaders appear more accessible and are more open to such adjustments.

Lathika, the chief of Kerala Pradesh Mahila Congress had sought 20 per cent representation in the candidate list where at least two women leaders should get representation from each district. But it was not accepted by party big-wigs. Following this she resigned from her official capacity and tonsured her head. It has been alleged that Lathika’s candidacy was opposed by the Catholic Church, which was irked by her support to nuns protesting against Jalandar Bishop Franco Mulackal. Mulackal, who is accused of allegedly raping a nun. Lathika extending her solidarity to the protesting nuns has cost her candidacy as the Church was adamant that Congress should not offer her seat as she has upset the Catholic community. On the other hand, church has been vocal when it comes to fielding male candidates of their preference. Arch Bishop of Thiruvananthapuram Latin Catholic Diocese SoosaPakyam, even wrote a letter to CM Pinarayi Vijayan asking to field Shaji George, vice-president of Kerala Regional Latin Catholic Council (KRLCC), as an independent left candidate from Ernakulam. Shaji is going to contest in Ernakulam due to the direct intervention of the church leadership. The decision was taken by CPI (M) to pacify Latin community in connection with deep sea fishing controversy. Meanwhile, IUML, after 25 years had turned a leaf by giving an opportunity to a women candidate to contest in the upcoming assembly elections in the state. For the first time, a transgender candidate named Anannyah Kumari Alex, a 28-year-old is contesting an Assembly election in Kerala. [43]

Conclusion 

There is no doubt that assembly elections in Kerala is going to be an intense one for all the three major political fronts in the state- LDF, UDF and NDA. With the emergence of BJP led by NDA, the state is going to witness a tri-polar contest and it has resulted in ramifications in the candidate selection procedure. All the three major fronts have come up with new criterion for candidate selection. However, the new candidate selection strategy haven’t gone down well with the party members and loyalists, and it has worsened the internal conflict between party members and party leadership even in cadre-based political parties in Kerala. Such dissent brewing among political workers in the parties will have a large impact on the stability and longevity of the upcoming political regime as parties can resort to horse-trading and poaching of MLA’s by exploiting the discontent within the party members of rival parties for improving their tally.

The political landscape in the world’s largest democracy is now centered on consolidating power and power alone, even at the cost of sacrificing party and ideologies and Kerala too is no different. Such a scenario has favored migration of party members from one party to the other [44]who are willing to go great lengths by dumping their parent party and betraying the trust of the voters who have helped them to reach the corridors of power. Political analysts term this phenomena as ‘throwaway culture in politics’ [45] a consequence of neoliberal consumer capitalism. In other words, migrating to the party that can satisfy their quest for power and if not discard it and move to the other and vice-versa. The candidate selection process and seat-sharing talks ahead of the assembly elections have witnessed many such inter-party migration where opportunistic leaders flocking to the rival parties by ditching their parent parties. This phenomena is not limited to assembly elections alone, even local government elections are not spared from this. It also denotes that politics has become more individual-centered or centered on a person and the only aim is to maximize profit by capturing power. [46] It also shows that power has superseded ideology. [47]

Meanwhile, the only visible positive outcome from the new selection strategy is that youth have been given adequate representation in the candidate list. Though the contagion effects in terms of ticketing of candidates was clearly visible in terms of increased representation to youth but it was not applied to increase the presence of women in assembly elections. But no political front has done much to address the skewed representation of women candidates despite giving considerable space to younger generation male candidates. This shows that the race to power is the default right of men with money and muscle power and women are seldom preferred [48].

(Authors: Jos Chathukulam, Former Professor, Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralization& Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru, e-mail: chathukulam[at]isec.ac.in ; Manasi Joseph, Research Associate, Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala, email: manasijoseph[at]gmail.com ; Rekha V, Associate Fellow, Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala, email: rekhasunil4ever[at]gmail.com)

References 

    • Divakaran V Dimpi (2021): “Impact of the Kerala Congress(M) on the Left Democratic Front”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.56, Issue No:7.
    • Emmanuel, Gladwin. (2021, March 8): “After internal party backlash, CPI(M) will not field AK Balan’s wife Jameela in Tharoor,” The NewsMinute.
    • Nazer, Mohammed (2021, March 18): “Three Women and Their Acts of Defiance,” The Hindu. 
    • Philip, Shaju. (2021, February 24):”Explained: Why is Kerala govt caught in a net over a deep sea fishing deal?” The Indian Express
    • Prabhash, J (2021, March 18): “Throwaway Politics or End of Politics?”, The New Indian Express
    • Times News Network (2021, March 17): “Stalemate at Irikkur Continues as Talks Hit a Wall,” The Times of India. 
    • Times News Network. (2021, March 9):“Big Protests at PonnaniKuttiyadi over Candidacy,” The Times of India.
    • Royce Koop & Amanda Bittner (2011) Parachuted into Parliament: Candidate Nomination, Appointed Candidates, and Legislative Roles in Canada, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 21:4, 431-452
    • Unnithan, Gopikrishan (2020, November 2): “Hit by Kerala gold smuggling, Life Mission scam, CM Vijayan says probe agencies exceeding jurisdiction,” India Today

[1In West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) led Left Front, ruled the state for seven consecutive terms from 1977 — 2011.

[2In Tripura, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) led Left Front, ruled the state for 25 years. The CPI(M) came into power in 1978. Though it was briefly defeated by Congress — Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti Coalition but returned to power in 1993. In 2018, they were voted out of power.

[3Customs officials seized a consignment of gold worth Rs. 15 crores (US $2.05 Million) at the Trivandrum International Airport on July 5. The consignment that came via diplomatic channel was addressed to the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. The two main accused were former employees of the UAE consulate and one of them was also a marketing officer for one of the firms linked to the Kerala government’s information technology department. This accused allegedly was close to a senior bureaucrat in the CMO. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), a Counter-Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India, Customs, and Enforcement Directorate (ED) are currently investigating the gold smuggling scam. Enforcement Directorate had arrested the former Principal Secretary M Shivasanker to the Kerala Chief Minister in connection with gold smuggling case but was granted bail after 98 days.

[4The dollar case relates to alleged smuggling of USD 1,90,000 (equivalent to Rs 1.30 crore) by a former finance head of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram to Muscat in Oman. Swapna Suresh, a prime accused in the gold smuggling case and P S Sarith, a co-accused in gold smuggling are also allegedly involved in the dollar case.

[5Sabarimala Temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is situated in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. Women in the menstruating age were not permitted to worship there considering the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa. In September 2018, a judgement of the Supreme Court of India ruled that all Hindu pilgrims regardless of gender can enter. This verdict led to protests by millions of Ayyappa devotees Defying such protests, two women activists belonging to the previously barred age group finally entered the temple on January 2, 2019. It led to massive protest and snowballed into a political controversy. In November 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to review the landmark judgment allowing women in menstruating age to enter Sabarimala Temple.

[6EMCC International India Private Limited, a unit of US based EMCC Global consortium LCC that focuses on fisheries research and development for the upgradation and promotion of deep sea fishing. The LDF government in Kerala is accused of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a US-based company for deep sea fishing in the state. However, Fisheries Minister Mercykutty Amma said that the Fisheries Ministry, which is in charge of giving license for deep sea trawling, has not signed any MoU with EMCC. It was later revealed that the first MoU was signed between Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation Limited or KSIDC (for the government of Kerala) and EMCC in February 2020. Another MoU was signed between Kerala Shipping Inland Navigation Corporation Limited (KSINC) and the firm in February 2021. Also See Philip (2021).

[7Love jihad is a term frequently used by Hindutva organisations to allege a conspiracy by Muslim men to marry women from other religions solely to convert them to Islam.

[8Shylaja is the Minister of Health and Social Welfare in the present Pinarayi Vijayan Ministry in Kerala Popularly known as Shailaja Teacher, she earned global recognition for the Kerala model of combating Covid 19

[9T P Ramakrishnan is Minister for Labour and Exercise in the present Ministry.

[10Minister of Electricity/Power in the present Ministry

[11Minister for Co-operation, Tourism and Devaswom in the present Ministry

[12Minister for Fisheries, Harbour Engineering and Cashew Industry in the present Ministry

[13Minister for Local Self Government Department in the present Ministry

[14One of the authors of this paper interacted with Dr. John S Moolakattu, Senior Professor, Dept. of International Relations & Politics, Central University of Kerala, Kasargod on March 22, 2021. He opined that there is a strong affinity towards parliamentary politics among the politicians and it is their only political agenda.

[15One of the authors of this paper interacted with a state committee member of CPI (M) and the input was put forward by the member.

[16Riyaz is the national president of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFYI).

[17She is the vice-principal of Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur.

[18A constituency in Thrissur, Kerala.

[19Present convener of LDF in Kerala and also the acting Secretary of CPI(M) Kerala State Committee.

[20A communist veteran, one of the senior-most leaders of CPI (M) in India, was Chief Minister of Kerala from 2006 to 2011.

[21Minister of Finance in the present Ministry and a Central Committee Member of the CPI (M).

[22Minister of Industries and Sports in the present Ministry and a Central Committee Member of the CPI (M).

[23Minister of Education in the present Ministry

[24Minister of Public Works Department in the present Ministry

[25Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes, Law, Culture and Parliamentary Affairs in the present Ministry and a Central Committee Member of the CPI (M).

[26Jameela was the director of health services, Government of Kerala. She is daughter of P K Kunjachan who was a CPI (M) central committee member and a former Rajya Sabha Member. He was also the general secretary of All India Agricultural Workers Union.

[27A constituency in Kozhikode, Kerala.

[28A constituency in Pathnamthitta, Kerala

[29A former Member of Parliament from Malappuram Constituency and a seven-time MLA from Vengara, Kunhalikutty has held the portfolio of Industries in the Oommen Chandy-led UDF government in 2011-2016.

[30He is the son of C H Mohammed Koya, the former CM of Kerala. Muneer was the Minister for Social Welfare and Panchayat in the last (2011 - 2016) UDF Ministry.

[31Noorbina contested her first municipal corporation election in 1995. In 1996, a year after she became municipal councillor, Rasheed formed the Women’s League, the women’s wing of the IUML, and became its founding secretary. At present she is the national general secretary of the Women’s League.

[32He is the son of former CM and senior congress leader K Karunakaran. He has been elected to Lok Sabha four times.

[33Nemom is situated in Thiruvananthapuram district, with a portion of the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation falling within the constituency. In the Assembly elections of 2016, senior BJP leader O Rajagopal had created history by becoming the first party candidate to win a seat in the state.

[34Congress (A) was founded by A. K. Antony in 1980. Its prominent members include former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy and M.M Hasan, the present convenor of UDF.

[35Congress (I)’ stands for Indira Gandhi, was a camp that emerged in 1978. The camp was led by four-time CM K. Karunakaran. This group later went on to include Ramesh Chennithala, K. Sudhakaran, V.D. Satheesan, and Karunakaran’s son K. Muraleedharan.

[36It is the home turf of Lathika.

[37V.K. Ebrahim Kunju was the Minister for Industry and Social Welfare in the previous Oommen Chandy Ministry. He is facing investigation under corruption charges in the construction of Palarivattom flyover in Ernakulam, Kerala.

[38A senior member of the famed Thangal family of Malappuram that has played a pivotal role in scripting the socio-political changes of Muslim Community in Kerala

[39Metroman’ E Sreedharan will take on sitting Congress MLA Shafi Parambil in the Kerala Assembly elections. A fierce triangular contest is expected this time in Palakkad, held by the UDF since 2011, as the ruling LDF has also fielded a first timer, to take on the Congress and the BJP. The BJP buoyed by its success in Palakkad in the local government polls and is hopeful they will win this assembly seat.

[40It is northernmost Assembly constituency in Kerala. Like Nemom constituency in Thiruvananthapuram, Manjeshwaram too has a sizeable Hindu population, but it is a stronghold of IUML. Like winning Nemom in last assembly elections, this time BJP has to win Manjeshwaram if it wants to improve it tally and presence in the state.

[41Kazhakoottam is an important seat for the BJP in the state, as the party came second in the constituency in the 2016 assembly elections.

[42One of the authors of this paper interviewed Lathika on March 20, 2021. Following seat denial she decided to contest elections as an independent candidate from Ettumanoor and she opined that she feels more independent as she is free from the clutches or constrains as the member of a particular party.

[43Anannyah, a candidate of Democratic Social Justice Party is contesting contest against Indian Union Muslim League
(IUML) heavyweight PK Kunhalikutty in Vengara.

[44One of the authors of this paper interviewed Prof. J Prabhash, political commentator and former Professor, Dept. of Political Sciences, Kerala University on March 23, 2021.

[45Prabhash, J, New Indian Express, March 18, 2021.

[46On March 24, 2021, one of the authors of this paper talked to Dr. T M Joseph, first Chair Professor of B.S. Bhargava Chair on Decentralised Governance and Development, Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala.

[47One of the authors of this paper talked to Prof. M A Oommen on March 25, 2021. He is the former Chairman of the 4th State Finance Commission, Govt. of Kerala. He is also an Honorary Professor, Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram.

[48One of the authors of this paper interviewed Dr. Mercy John, one of the general secretaries of Kerala Congress and state president of Knanaya Catholic Women’s Association on March 22, 2021

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