The major gains made by the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the recently concluded local body polls in Kerala come as a big booster for it in the run-up to Assembly elections due in April-May 2021. The local body elections, which were being considered as the semi-finals ahead of the Assembly polls, had witnessed a close contest between the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
The LDF, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), bagged 514 gram panchayats out of the total 941 as per the state election commission. The UDF won 375 gram panchayats, making it a tight fight. The Bharatiya Janata PartyJ-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could only bag 23 gram panchayats.
The clear edge for LDF over UDF could be seen in block panchayats (108 against 44), district panchayats (10-4) and corporations (5-1), while municipalities across the state stood with UDF (39-35). The BJP, which failed to wrest any block, district panchayats and corporations, however, has improved its position in municipalities, winning a majority in two municipalities compared with one in 2015.
Development Overshadows Allegations
The victory for an incumbent front in the Kerala local body elections has happened for the first time in past 20 years, and is being read as a referendum on the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government amid various Opposition allegations. The UDF and NDA had made the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case as a central issue in their election campaigns.
The UDF and NDA had also tried to derail several developmental projects of the state government, including the housing project, Life Mission, which aims to provide secure housing for all. However, going by the verdict, the LDF’s focus on developmental activities has worked.
Another key factor in the LDF’s good showing was the change in political alliances ahead of the local body polls. The Kerala Congress (M) Jose K Mani faction, which had been an old ally of UDF, joined with LDF. After the demise of KM Mani, the founder of KC(M), there was a conflict between Mani’s son Jose K Mani and PJ Joseph. The case even reached before the court and finally the Jose K Mani faction was ousted from UDF.
Central Kerala has traditionally been the stronghold of KC(M) and this time, the LDF has performed well in the traditional UDF strongholds in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta. Ahead of the elections, the Jose K Mani fraction of Kerala Congress (Mani) allied with LDF.
VThese elections also saw the LDF bagging many UDF strongholds. The Pala Municipality, which has supported UDF since its formation, has been secured by the LDF, which won 17 of the 26 wards. The UDF won 8 seats and one seat has gone to an independent candidate. Pala is known as the bastion of Kerala Congress (Mani).
In Kottayam district, 39 gram panchayats stood with LDF this time. The UDF won only 24 gram panchayats, while three gram panchayats in the district have gone with the NDA and five have been bagged by others. In 2015, UDF had won 49 gram panchayats in the district and LDF’s had won only in 22 gram panchayats. Except Erattupetta block panchayat, all the 10 have been secured by the LDF this time against UDF winning nine in 2015.
The district panchayat has also been wrested by LDF this time which won a majority with 14 seats against seven by the UDF, and one has gone to others. In 2015, UDF had won 14.
In the case of municipalities, the UDF has maintained a decent lead. The Palai Municiplaity, a traditional stronghold of UDF and KC(M), however, has been bagged by LDF.
In Pathanamthitta and Idukki as well, LDF has performed well compared with the 2015 elections.
In north Kerala, except Kannur, UDF performed has performed relatively well compared with 2015. The region had witnessed an “alliance” of Congress with Jamat-e-islami. Some traditional strongholds of UDF, like Nilambur Municipality, have however been wrested by the LDF.
BJP’s New Inroads
The BJP, whose top leaders were fielded to wrest power from the ruling LDF, has bagged more seats this time than in the 2015 elections, even though it had been claiming that the fight was between LDF and NDA. But, overall, the BJP-led NDA has performed well this time bagging 23 gram panchayats against 13 in 2015. This time as well, they could not win any block panchayat, district panchayat or corporation which are bigger, and where political votes matter more.
NDA won 37 bock panchayat wards across the state against 21 in 2015; two divisions to district panchayats against three in 2015; 320 municipality wards against 236 in 2015; 59 divisions to various corporations against 51 in 2015.
While NDA who had won only one municipality- Palakkad- it won two this time while retaining power in Palakkad and wresting the Pandalam municipality from LDF. Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district was the ground zero of protests led by BJP/RSS along with other Hindutva organisations against the entry of women into Sabarimala in 2018 following the Supreme Court verdict.
Though BJP got a majority in only two municipalities, they made inroads in several others — at Mavelikkara municipality it emerged neck and neck with LDF and UDF.
But, in the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, where BJP had fielded its state leadership as candidates to wrest power from LDF, it could not sustain its earlier tally. While LDF has registered a clear edge with 51 seats of the total 100, NDA got 34 divisions, UDF got 10 and others won 5 seats. In 2015, LDF had won 42 wards and the BJP alliance back then had the same 34 seats.
However, the results do reflect an “understanding” between the BJP and UDF, as alleged by some LDF sources during the campaign. For example, in the Nedunkadu ward in Thiruvanathapuram Corporation, where NDA’s Ajith Kumar had won, UDF could only bag 74 votes. While in 2015, UDF had 1,169 votes, suggesting that the UDF cross-voted for BJP this time to defeat S Pushpalatha of CPI(M) who had won from the seat in 2015. Pushpalatha, however, increased her votes from 3,157 in 2015 to 3,442 in 2020. There are strong indications of such cross-voting in many wards across the state.