From CAA to COVID-19, has Kerala politics changed?

From CAA to COVID-19, has Kerala politics changed?
Several leaders of the LDF and UDF attended a meeting.

The Left Democratic Front workers are busy in a door-to-door campaign in connection with the fourth anniversary of the government led by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Even as they explain the good work done by the government and collect feedback from the public, they have been nudging the people with a tactful question: “Don’t you think that this government should continue with its work?”

Meanwhile, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the ruling alliance led by the party has launched political moves to stay in power after next year’s assembly election. A year short of the crucial poll, both the CPM-led front and the opposition front led by the Congress are busy manoeuvring. Though the elections to the local self-government bodies are scheduled for October – the chief minister has said that there is no change in that schedule – all three political alliances have their doubts regarding that.

The BJP’s Kerala unit has been told that a decision on holding elections in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic was yet to be taken. The central government might have to give the green signal before the elections are notified even though the local elections are the responsibility of the state election commissions. Andhra Pradesh has already postponed the local body election. The process that has been set in motion in Kerala, therefore, is focused solely on the assembly election. All the fronts are energised with the work. They have their worries too.

LDF’s target

Both the CPM and the Congress are focused on two other C-words that have changed the political landscape – the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and the coronavirus. Both the issues have boosted confidence in the left camp, prompting everyone from party state chief to lower-rung workers to claim another victory in the state.

The Congress, on the other hand, is struggling with a dent in its image as the biggest party in India. The Congress and its allies have ceded assembly seats like Pala and Vattiyoorkkavu – where community equations have always helped them – to the CPM and its allies. The LDF is riding the confidence provided by those by-election victories.

From CAA to COVID-19, has Kerala politics changed?

The CPM has a clear picture regarding its chances in each of the assembly constituencies if the election were to be held now. The party is yet to reach the record 39.14 per cent votes its undivided predecessor set in 1960, after the EMS Namboodiripad government was dismissed. Even when the votes gathered by both the CPM and the CPI do not add up that benchmark. The communist party has to rely on their allies to garner 40 per cent vote share. The only time the alliance crossed the 50 per cent mark was on its debut in 1980.

The basic impediment to a second shot at power, as per the CPM’s analysis, is the stranglehold of the Muslim League and the Kerala Congress, both Congress allies, on the Muslim and Christian communities, which make up 26 per cent and 22 per cent of the state’s population. This historical analysis explains Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s revelation that the party was open to accepting one of the warring factions of the Kerala Congress into the LDF fold.

UDF’s plan

UDF leaders have sought to ridicule the confidence in their rivals’ camp by comparing it to the LDF’s expectation to win the Lok Sabha election by raising a religious reforms platform and drawing women’s votes by taking a stand in favour of the Supreme Court decision to allow all women to go to the Sabarimala shrine. Though the spread of COVID-19 has strengthened the government machinery and increased the people’s dependence on the dispensation, the Congress is expecting a change of situation as the election approaches. Though many opposition leaders are frustrated by the increasing image of the chief minister, saner voices within the front counsel for patience until they have an issue that can resonate with the people.

Kerala’s political fortunes were always determined by the swing votes that formed hardly 5 per cent of the electorate. At least 5,000 people might vote against the government in every assembly constituency. If an anti-BJP wave and the ripples of Rahul Gandhi’s foray into Wayanad uprooted the LDF in the parliamentary election, a lesser wave could foil their hopes for a second term, the Congress believes.

The disillusion with the Narendra Modi government and the campaigns by both the LDF and the UDF were deciding factors in Kerala politics until the coronavirus started to spread in India. Has the lockdown dampened the sentiments against the central government? Both the fronts will have to take into consideration any such change and the ripple effects that would cause in the state’s politics.

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