Amid the din around Kerala’s local body elections and the assembly election, not many people noticed a referendum at the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). The CPM and the Left Democratic Front did.
The CPM-affiliated trade union suffered a dent in its support base. Though the CITU retained its decades-old dominance over the employees of the state-run transporter, its vote share slid about 10 per cent, while the BJP-affiliated BMS secured enough votes to get recognised for the first time. Congress-affiliated INTUC retained the second spot.
The KSRTC referendum raised two uncomfortable questions. Even as the CPM and the government it leads claimed that there was no anti-incumbency factor in the state, how could the employees of the largest public sector undertaking think otherwise? How did some of the CITU votes ended up with the BMS?
These questions have unsettled the LDF in its wait to be at the helm of affairs for a second time. Has its support base eroded? More importantly, has it benefited the BJP?
Erosion of votes
In the previous assembly election in 2016, the BJP finished runners-up in seven constituencies. The Congress-led United Democratic Front won four of them and the LDF three. In other seats where the BJP considerably increased its vote share, the UDF lost. The BJP’s bedrock of 5000-10,000 votes in the weakest of constituencies rose to 10,000-15,000. Those additional votes were widely seen as the UDF’s loss.
The referendum in the KSRTC offers a fresh perspective on the phenomenon. The CPM may also be suffering from the rise of the BJP. The signs were evident in the elections to the local self-government bodies in 2020. The BJP made inroads in LDF strongholds of Kilimanur and Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district. In the Kodungallur municipality, the BJP won 20 wards, relegating the CPM to 11. In Mavelikkara municipality, the parties scored equal seats.
The BJP was challenging the LDF too. They could definitely unsettle the dominant fronts by eating into their votes, if not by offering their vote bank as the LDF and the UDF allege.
The extent of support
The CPM has analysed that the UDF retained its influence in areas corresponding to 41 assembly segments even amid the electoral fiasco of 2020 local body polls. Even as party analysts and political pundits keep projecting potential swings, the list of the assembly seats deserve special attention – Manjeswaram, Kasaragod, Irikkur, Kannur, Koduvally, Thiruvambadi, Kalpetta, Eranad, Kondotty, Kottaykal, Malappuram, Manjeri, Mankada, Nilambur, Tanur, Tirur, Thiroorangadi, Vallikkunnu, Vengara, Vandoor, Mannarkad, Palakkad, Chalakudy, Thrissur, Aluva, Angamaly, Ernakulam, Kunnathunad, Moovattupuzha, Perumbavoor, Piravom, Thrikkakkara, Vypeen, Puthuppally, Kottayam, Devikulam, Idukki, Thodupuzha, Konni, Ranni and Chavara.
These constituencies are pointers as UDF strongholds that withstood a wave in favour of the LDF. The UDF has to win an additional 30 seats to return to power. On the other hand, the LDF is guaranteed a victory even if it loses 28 of the 99 seats where it led last year.
It seems that the UDF will rebound and the LDF is unlikely to retain the pride of place. That leads us to the possibility of a slender margin no matter who the winner is.
This possibility also makes a strong case for the BJP’s decisive influence in 15 assembly constituencies in which it won at least 25 percent votes in 2016. If the party still manages to command that level of loyalty, they would gather at least 35,000 votes in those constituencies. If they manage to win any of those, it would be a game changer.
The more the BJP gains, the higher the chances of a hung assembly. Congress leader K Muraleedharan was the first leader to express concern about such a situation. The Congress has picked the same leader to wrest the Nemom assembly constituency, the BJP’s only seat so far.