As LDF, UDF Vie For Kerala, BJP Hopes To Be Counted

In the 2016 assembly polls, the LDF had won a two thirds majority with 93 seats in the 140-member house while the UDF got 47 seats and the BJP got just one seat.

A 30-year-old trend in Kerala where people vote out the incumbent every five years has given hopes to the Congress-led UDF in the poll-bound state but the April-May contest is not going to be a cakewalk for the opposition grouping.

The ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front is on a high after its success in the December 2020 local body polls where the Congress-led United Democratic Front had an opportunity to counter the corruption-hit government but could not capitalize on it.

In the 2016 assembly polls, the LDF had won a two thirds majority with 93 seats in the 140-member house while the UDF got 47 seats and the BJP got just one seat.

The opposition front, which had swept the 2019 national elections by winning 19 of the total 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state, was clearly done in by its own complacency, poor selection of candidates and an incoherent strategy in the local body polls which were billed as semi-finals for the 2021 assembly elections by the observers.

Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi, tipped to be Congress president again, is a Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad and is expected to campaign extensively in the southern state.


Congress president Rahul Gandhi filing his nomination in Wayanad, Kerala for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.


The Congress defeat in the local body elections had rung alarm bells in the party’s central leadership which immediately got down to controlling damage and working out a strategy to arrest the slide.

An internal assessment later showed that several rebel candidates had spoiled the chance of Congress nominees who were fielded on the basis of group equations.

The Congress paid the price of joining hands with the Welfare Party, backed by the Jamaat-e-Islami, for the local body polls as the move is said to have impacted the grand old party’s equation with Muslim voters in the northern areas.

There is a feeling within the state Congress that apprehensions of the minorities should be addressed as significant Muslim votes were lost in several community-dominated areas during the local body polls.

The Congress deal with the Welfare Party had upset the Christians as well. As a result, neither partner is now willing to take the pact forward for the assembly polls.

Besides party issues, the Congress is also grappling over the projection of a popular chief ministerial face to counter incumbent Pinarayi Vijayan who has consolidated his position both within the CPI-M.

The re-entry of former chief minister Oommen Chandy amid demand from a section of leaders that he should lead the Congress’ assembly poll campaign has upset Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, who, many think, is a natural claimant for the top executive post.


Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala (right) is reportedly upset over demands of bringing back former CM Oommen Chandy (left).


Two other senior leaders, state unit chief Mullapally Ramachandran and veteran PC Chacko, are also being seen as CM hopefuls. The AICC is obviously in a bind over the issue and to avoid any controversy has adopted the traditional collective leadership line to curb infighting.

There is also a thought that Congress should field fresh faces with a win ability factor to present a new look in the coming polls.


The coming polls are significant for the CPI-M as Kerala is the only state in the country where the Left party holds power or has a chance of gaining power.

In the recent local body polls, the LDF was able to woo the Kerala Congress (Mani) from the UDF to its side and gained in areas like Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta. For Congress, it meant a loss of traditional Christian votes in central areas.

The LDF also gained from the anti-CAA stand it had taken as the minorities supported the ruling formation. Besides, the social welfare schemes of the Vijayan government and mobilization of voters helped the ruling combine do well in the December local body polls.

Interestingly, the entry of BJP has forced the LDF to present itself as the real champion of secular politics and inclusive development over Congress.


Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addressing the gathering at the joint protest against the amended Citizenship Act, in Thiruvananthapuram. (Credit- PTI)


Besides the two secular formations, the LDF and the UDF, the presence of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which made further inroads during the recent local body polls, has created a buzz around the possible third dimension in Kerala politics.

In 2018, the BJP had mounted a campaign against the LDF government which had supported the Supreme Court order allowing entry to women between 10-50 years in the Sabarimala temple but it did not get any electoral benefits in the 2019 national elections.

However, the BJP has gone up from 236 municipal divisions to 320 and from 51 municipal corporations in 2015 to 55. The saffron party won municipalities like Palakkad and Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district, where the Sabarimala temple is located and became the main opposition in capital Thiruvananthapuram.

The gain for the BJP largely came from the UDF vote bank than the LDF support base, indicating trouble for the Congress. Saffron party leaders claim they gained support in Pathanamthitta parliamentary constituency due to the protests launched against the SC order.

Poll watchers said a similar pitch may be heard over the coming months.

The saffron party won a majority in two municipalities but gained entry in several local bodies. It has a majority in four village panchayats but has an edge in 15 village panchayats.

Though the saffron party may gain vote share across several assembly constituencies, it would be a bit farfetched to assume the BJP will emerge as the third front in the new assembly. The party neither has a face to project nor a strong grassroots organization in the southern state.

Though the BJP had projected its ally Bharath Dharma Jana Sena as a significant player, the regional party had performed poorly in the December local body polls. In 2019, BDJS president Thushar Vellapally lost to Rahul Gandhi in the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency.


Amit Shah with Thushar Vellappally. (Credit: Manorama Online)


Interestingly, the Congress and the CPI-M are allies in West Bengal, which will also go to polls in April-May, the two parties lead rival formations in Kerala.

The Congress and the CPI-M are often seen targeting the BJP together at the centre but attack each other in Kerala. Both sides, however, have explained this paradox as the difference between the dynamics of state politics and the need for convergence over national issues.

Ahead of the assembly polls, the UDF is accusing both the LDF and the BJP of playing divisive politics while the saffron party is trying to project the coming elections as a BJP vs LDF fight.

In turn, the LDF blames the Congress of hobnobbing with the Indian Union Muslim League in an attempt to woo the Hindu-Christian voters. On its part, the Congress too is trying to woo Church leaders in the hope that the Catholics will back it.

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