It looked as if Kerala had dreaded what was to come, and as a kind of desperate last-gasp effort, ditched even traditional party affiliations and voted overwhelmingly in favour of the formation it believed could somehow stop the galloping force called Narendra Modi.
The UDF virtually swept the Lok Sabha polls, winning 19 of the 20 seats on offer. Alappuzha alone was left for the CPM. The BJP's Sabarimala gamble did not stand a chance. All said, Kerala's mighty defiance looked too trivial a hurdle in front of the rampaging Hindutva wave powered by Modi in rest of the country.
Still, it seemed a near miraculous effort. Half of the UDF candidates who stood for the Lok Sabha polls won with a majority of more than a lakh votes, a first for the state. Among them, two recorded a majority of over two lakh votes.
Muslim League's P K Kunhalikutty trumped his young CPM opponent P P Suneer by 2.6 lakh votes in Malappuram, and Rahul Gandhi, though he lost to Smriti Irani in his family bastion Amethi, drew up a mammoth majority of 4.32 lakh votes, a state record.
The sweep was so forceful that even a constituency like Alathur, which had voted only for CPM since its inception in 2008, was won by the Congress by over 1.5 lakh votes. Even Palakkad, which never looked away from the CPM for 28 years, fell to the Congress. Such was the clarity of the mandate that all the UDF winners except one (V K Sreekandan in Palakkad) won by a margin of more than 40,000 votes.
The BJP has evidently increased its vote share, and in places like Pathanamthitta and Thrissur it had even increased its share by nearly 20 per cent, but yet was furiously and decisively rejected. In Thiruvananthapuram, despite the organisational might of the RSS, BJP candidate Kummanam Rajasekharan could not even emulate O Rajagopal's performance in 2014. Shashi Tharoor won by a margin (1.1 lakh votes) bigger than even his first victory in 2009 (99,998).
The mobilisation of Hindu votes in the name of Sabarimala was more than matched by a counter mobilisation of minority and secular votes. Congress's Anto Antony won decisively in Hindu dominated areas like Aranmula and Konni where he was predicted to fare miserably. T N Prathapan won Thrissur by a whopping majority of nearly 94,000 votes even after Suresh Gopi, drunk on Lord Ayyappa, managed to increase the BJP vote share by over 20 per cent.
The counter mobilisation seems to have been triggered by the anti-Muslim taunts that were hurled in the wake of Rahul Gandhi's decision to contest from Wayanad. Rahul Gandhi's arrival enraged not just the Left but also the national BJP leadership that they spitefully gave out anti-Muslim statements. Narendra Modi himself began the diatribe. He said the Congress was so afraid of a Hindu backlash that Rahul Gandhi had gone to “contest from a seat where the minority is majority”. UP chief minister Yogi Adithyanath's anti-Muslim rant was so provocative that he called the Muslim League a “virus”, confident that his support base can easily track the trajectory of the barb.
BJP state president Sreedharan Pillai was even more vicious. While campaigning for Sobha Surendran in Attingal, Pillai had cracked what looked like a joke about how dead Muslims could be physically identified. Even Narendra Modi, who could get away with making fun of Muslims in North India, had never crossed the limits in Kerala.
The CPM, too, did not show restraint. Its state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the Congress was cultivating Muslim fundamentalism by aligning with the Muslim League, as if the Congress-League alliance was hastily stitched up to accommodate Rahul. Even Jamath-e-Islami, which was traditional anti-Congress, declared open support for the Congress. It is also said that BJP national president Amit Shah's massive rally on the day before Easter Sunday might have scared the Christian community in Pathanamthitta.
Given the seemingly heavy minority consolidation in favour of the UDF, the responsibility for the failure cannot be fully pinned on the performance of the LDF government. Nonetheless, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's handling of the Sabarimala issue, especially his perceived haste to get the Supreme Court verdict implemented and his decision to sneak in two women into the hill shrine, might have repelled the majority community, including those who had traditionally voted Left.
To say that a mere minority consolidation had caused the rout of the LDF would be a narrow reading of the result. The huge majorities scored by the winners show that even the secular-minded among the majority community, even the Left-leaning ones, had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the UDF. Both the need to keep the BJP out and Pinarayi's apparent failings may have led to the biggest decimation suffered by the Left after 1977.
It can also not be disputed that whatever gains the BJP had managed, it was at the cost of the LDF. The surprise surge for Congress's V K Sreekandan in Palakkad, T N Prathapan's victory in Thrissur, Anto Antony's victory in Pathanamthitta and Adoor Prakash's triumph in Attingal are all pointers to the leakage of votes from the Left. In all these constituencies, the BJP has managed to vastly improve its vote share.
It is now also clear that the pre-poll alliance Pinarayi had struck with the Pulayar Mahasabha and with the Ezhava community to an extent, which many observers called the state's 'Mahagatbandhan', failed big time.
In a sense, Rahul Gandhi can be considered Kerala's Narendra Modi. Just the way Modi had inspired BJP's pan-India victory, the Gandhi scion, though near fatally mauled in the larger battle, was more than partly responsible for the UDF's clean sweep in Kerala.
His presence might have even accentuated the minority consolidation in at least the Malabar constituencies like Kozhikode, Vadakara, Kannur and Kasaragod. The capture of the Left's citadels in Malabar was another crown in UDF's cap. In North Kerala, the Congress had framed the battle as a struggle against the CPM's politics of murder.