Calculation time for UDF and Congress in Kerala
The first session of the 15th Kerala Legislative Assembly began on Monday. With the appointment of VD Satheeshan as the new leader of the opposition, the Congress-led UDF hopes to regain the confidence of its electoral base which was shaken in the recently concluded Assembly election. Analysis of election data showed that the UDF lost some of its established voting banks to the LDF and NDA alliances. Since 1980, Kerala’s political high command has constantly alternated between the two main political alliances of the state, namely the UDF (United Democratic Front) led by Congress and the LDF (Left Democratic Front) led by the CPI ( M). The prevalence of the anti-titular factor, the unique sociological tapestry, and the presence of strong political sensitivities are some of the reasons that citizens of the state are known to be ruthless towards the incumbent political system. In keeping with the state’s political tradition, the LDF took over power from the UDF in 2016, in conjunction with the series of setbacks Congress experienced in national and state politics at the time. The alliance comfortably took the backseat, trusting the “predictability” of Kerala voters not to elect a government for two consecutive terms and, in retrospect, paid off heavily! The LDF’s victory and the subsequent analysis of electoral data exposed the flaws in the UDF’s electoral mechanism as well as the front’s future in state politics.
Before the elections
The road to the 2021 Assembly elections was “ seen ” as favoring the Congress-led UDF after recording a decisive victory in the 2019 elections in Lok Sabha. The UDF pocketed 19 of the 20 LS seats, sounding the alarm bells for the ruling party to critically introspect and detect the shifting political winds. This opportunity was not wasted by LDF and it bounced back stronger with a landslide victory in the 2020 local election, indicating that the upcoming electoral battle would be fiercely contested. This underscored that Kerala voters made an agile distinction between the “nature” of the problems at the national and local level and the front that would best resolve them.
Despite the critical setback, the UDF released all the known judgments to be re-elected: ending the political isolation of former CM Oommen Chandy to rekindle his “connection with the masses”; promising the implementation of the much talked about NYAY program which includes the provision of Rs. 6000 / month to poor households; promising a law to overturn the Sabarimala judgment (despite the story of the Shah Bano debacle); recurring campaigns by “star activists”, including Shashi Tharoor, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, and presenting around 55% of new candidates in the constituencies.
Results and takeaways
The election results were a huge disappointment for the UDF as it was returned with just 41 seats in the 140-member assembly, which is a historic low for the alliance over the past four decades. Subsequently, not only did the FDL succeed in increasing its number of seats to the highest level it had in the comparable period, but the difference of almost 6 percentage points in the share of votes of the two factions was last observed in the 2006 elections. The UDF only managed to exceed the vote share of the LDF in three of the 14 districts, namely Ernakulam, Wayanad and Malappuram, and obtained a share of the vote. total vote of 39.47% compared to LDF’s share of 45.43%.
Analysis of election data showed that the UDF lost some of its established voting banks to the LDF and NDA alliances. As upper-caste Hindus’ votes shift to the NDA, the UDF’s break with the Kerala Congress (M) in 2020 cost them their popularity among Christian voters in the central Travancore region, particularly in the districts of Kottayam and Idukki.
The LDF not only managed to increase its seats in the two districts combined from five to nine (out of a total of 14 constituencies), but it also significantly increased its share of the vote in the region relative to the UDF. [Vote Share in Idukki: LDF- 47.9%, UDF- 42.7%; Kottayam: LDF-43.7%, UDF-40.4%]. In addition, the current government’s anti-CAA and NRC stance has also found them supporters within the Muslim community.
As the UDF and Congress sit down to analyze the negative verdict, it has become very imperative to stop probing the uncomfortable issues that have been in the public domain for some time now. The lack of a solid organizational structure at both central and local levels; lack of coherent planning for the challenges ahead; the pouring out of “internal discontent” outside the bosom of the party and above all the absence of a concrete vision and a tenacious leadership, are all problem statements which have become synonymous with the structure of Congress. The attitude of the people at the head of business almost feels the inability to come to terms with the fact that politics has become a committed and active affair in the present times and that a status quo approach is simply no longer. one option available. The example of the UDF’s sparse and impartial use of social media channels to convey its memorandum and messages is a good example.
The UDF camp was also marked by several challenges in the state. Internal fighting between the Congress (I) and Congress (A) factions led by Ramesh Chennithala and Oommen Chandy respectively; confusion in choosing a CM candidate despite strong calls for the same; a fleeting but illogical alliance with the Welfare Party (an Islamist political group) cost the party everything during the critical phase of the electoral campaign. Moreover, the reluctance displayed by the party leadership to intervene to resolve the mistrust between the Muslim and Christian communities is symptomatic of a “ dysfunctional ” house claiming to be upright and good for the “ reputation ”. What they fail to realize is that while facing the truth is bitter, it is also absolutely essential if one is to begin with the process of redress.
Congress as a political party and the UDF as a front still have an opportunity for redemption as the state has still not relegated it to the “ relics of history ” that are visible in its part of decent voice he still holds. However, he gravely fails in his attempt to tip sentiment in his favor due to a lack of sincerity. It will not be able to do so by engaging in reactionary politics and adopting ad hoc-ism, in relation to challenges which have “existential” consequences for the party.
The panacea for Congress’ deep-rooted problems lies in its ability and willingness to shed old habits. Congress continues to nurture the old mindset that it needs to “bring everyone together” to take steps forward. It must emerge as a party of independent stature that knows how to lead forward with substance and direction and also forge successful alliances if it is to remain relevant in the times to come.
(Goutham KA is a partner and Bhavya Bhardwaj is an intern at the Center for Public Policy Research, Kochi)