Kerala has finally decided to change its political nature, and that too with unmistakable conviction. For the first time since 1979, the Kerala voter has re-elected a government with enhanced majority.
The incumbent LDF government has returned to power with 99 seats, equalling the highest tally mobilised by the UDF led by A K Antony in 2001 when it was freshly ushered in. The UDF has lost badly, faring miserably in some of its citadels and just about holding on in some of its strongholds. Its combined tally has dwindled to 41 from 47 last time.
The BJP but has been wiped off the Kerala's political map. Its performance has been judged so poor that its lone victory in 2016, in Nemom, now seems like an aberration. None of its senior leaders, except Kumanam Rajasekharan, were able to put up a decent fight. Only two of its non-political faces, Metroman E Sreedharan and film actor Suresh Gopi, could give the impression of having scared their rivals. It is high time the BJP realised that the Sabarimala issue had long before lost its golden sheen.
This resounding verdict in favour of continuity could also be a reflection of how the Kerala voter wants to be governed in times of unprecedented crises. The last few years felt apocalyptic, perhaps triggering a need for strong decisive leadership. And in Pinarayi Vijayan, the voters seem to have found the perfect fit. It is as if none of his faults mattered as long as he was playing the leader. It did not even matter that he exhibited fascist tendencies.
It was widely agreed that the Pinarayi-led government had vision and was goal-oriented but, to an extent, it was also the case with the former Oommen Chandy government that was badly decimated in the 2016 elections. Fact is, the Pinarayi government faced far serious charges of mis-governance than even the Chandy dispensation.
In normal times, the gold smuggling scandal or the E-Mobilty hub issue or the Sprinklr controversy or the deep sea fishing deal would have been enough to stall the re-election chances of any ruling front. Now, with the results out, it is clear that all these concerns were simply brushed aside by the voters.
Of course, some of these charges did hurt lesser LDF candidates. The deep sea fishing deal, for instance, scuppered the chances of fisheries minister J Mercikutty Amma, one of the CPM's tallest leaders. Also, the nepotism and the gold smuggling scandals very nearly pushed former minister K T Jaleel out of contention.
But voters in general preferred to ignore the negatives. Even some of the traits that were once disliked like Pinarayi Vijayan's authoritarian style – he turned the elections into a referendum on himself – was seen as strength. He even kept out some of the big names in his ministry, popular ministers like Thomas Isaac and G Sudhakaran, citing the two-term norm. Rather than put people off, this move too seems to have induced deep admiration for the man. This was seen as the mark of a true leader.
In fact, removing five ministers from the election fray would have even helped to neutralise the anti-incumbency factor.
If strong leadership was what the Kerala voter was looking for, the UDF could provide just confused leadership. The voter would have found in the UDF a chaotic mass of ambitions. A Pinarayi Vijayan would have felt a far better bet than a group of leaders, the voters presumed, would fight for the Chief Minister's post when a virus was devastating the land.
There was also strategic confusion in the UDF. Its decision to revive the Sabarimala issue, which by then was terribly low on battery, was not just foolish but suicidal. It only helped to project the LDF as the sole secular formation in Kerala. This also made the UDF look like another version of the BJP. No wonder, minority votes in central and south Kerala flowed to the LDF.
Yet, there were micro reprisals against the LDF. Revolutionary Marxist Party's K K Rema, whose husband T P Chandrasekharan was killed by CPM goons, won the CPM citadel of Vadakara by over 7000 votes. Jose K Mani, who struck a deal with his father's biggest detractors, suffered a shock defeat. The man who won Pala for the LDF and still was sacrificed for Jose K Mani was rewarded with a win in Pala.
Still, this opportunistic alliance the CPM struck with the KC(M) group did not alter the larger picture even a little bit. The assurance that Pinarayi Vijayan's manner conveyed was enough to mask all that was wrong with himself and the government.
And to think that before the pandemic, this very same manner had come across as haughty and abrasive.