The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) on Wednesday pulled off an emphatic victory in trying conditions in Kerala local body elections, often considered a semi-final before the assembly elections due in April-May.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan took to Twitter and thanked electors for “reposing faith in the LDF”.
“Thank you Kerala. Thank you for reposing faith in LDF. We are humbled by the trust and the confidence of the people of Kerala. This is a victory for secularism and inclusive development. My warm greetings to all the elected representatives,” CM’s tweet read.
Its hands down victory even surprised LDF leaders and the overconfident Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) which was eying a repeat of Lok Sabha outcome (it won 19 seats out of 20 seats last year) and is forced to lick its wounds. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) remained an also-ran in the fiercely-contested election.
Local body elections were held in the wake of mounting charges against the CPI(M)-led government. CM Vijayan’s secretary is in jail and a minister was questioned several times in connection with the gold smuggling case. The powerful party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was forced to proceed on leave after his son was arrested in connection with a narcotics case in Bengaluru.
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Many central agencies have also pitched their tents in the state probing a series of alleged kickbacks. Though Congress and BJP tried their best to exploit these sensational cases, the LDF pulled out a victory in most adverse conditions. It is considered a personal victory for the CM which further cemented his stature in the party.
A close look at the poll outcome shows political realignment in the LDF (Kerala Congress Mani and Loktantric Janata Dal joined the ruling coalition), the government’s effective Covid-19 control measures and its welfare programmes, including free ration, paid it rich dividends. Its high-pitch campaign that central agencies are targeting its leaders and trying to sabotage welfare programmes also helped in attracting sympathy votes, said political observers. A minority consolidation against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also helped it in a big way, they said.
In the LDF surge, many Christian-dominated forts of the Congress, like Kottayam and Pathanamthitta, crumbled and the party tasted humiliating defeat even in the wards of opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala in Haripad (Alapuzha) and former chief minister Oommen Chandy in Puthapally (Kottayam district). More than the BJP, the poll outcome raised a serious question on the UDF plank to seize power in assembly elections.
“The Congress will have to do enough introspection and check differences among its leaders,” said senior journalist and political commentator John Mary, adding overconfidence resulted in the party’s crushing defeat.
The BJP remained a distant third-runner though it managed one more civic body Pandalam (Pathanamthitta) besides its sitting Palakkad. But its strategy to win Thiruvananthapuram Corporation fell flat. Its plan to pull off a Hyderabad-like performance in the state capital failed to materialise – out 100 corporation seats, the LDF got 52, NDA 35, UDF 10 and 3 went to others.
Out of six corporations, the LDF won four – Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Thrissur and Kozhikkode – and the UDF emerged victorious only in Kannur (north Kerala) while Kochi threw a fractured verdict. Out of 944 local bodies, the LDF managed to secure 514, UDF 377, NDA 25 and 29 others.
“It is a victory of alternate policy being pursued by the CPI(M). People gave a befitting reply to the Centre’s plan to destabilise the state government using its agencies. We salute people of the state. This mandate will help the LDF to retain its power in assembly elections also,” said CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury in Delhi.
Congress leaders said they will examine reasons for the debacle and will do enough introspection. “Political climate was conducive for the party. We will examine reasons and take corrective measures,” said party leader TN Prathapan MP.
BJP state president K Surendran said both LDF and UDF helped each other and cross-voted to contain the party’s surge. “Last week LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan said the CPIM) had taken enough measures to stop BJP on its tracks. In many wards Congress workers gave their vote en bloc to the CPI(M) to sabotage BJP chances in Thiruvananthapuram,” he said, adding that the ruling party also distributed secret leaflets in many places for minority consolidation against the BJP.
Growing infighting in the BJP also attributed to its lacklustre performance. Many senior leaders like Shobha Surendran, PM Velayudhan and KP Sreesan kept away from the campaigning this time. There are two groups in the party – one led by minister of state for external Affairs V Muraleedharan and the other steered by senior leader P K Krishnasdas. After the elevation of Surendran as the state president, many leaders are keeping away from party activities protesting his style of functioning. His opponents in the party said they will approach the party central leadership for change of office-bearers.
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