By John Cheeran
There is nothing surprising in the Asianet-AZ opinion poll predicting a comprehensive win for the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha. The survey conducted in the first week of February has predicted a maximum of 16 seats to the UDF, leaving the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) red-faced with four seats. As always, BJP might win one seat.
The psephological kite-flyings are always interesting. And you can interpret results of opinion polls in imaginative ways to suit your political predilections. Asianet pundits have said the decisive victory predicted for the UDF is largely due to the emotive reaction to the festering Sabrimala issue. They would like to point out that the projected surge in the NDA vote share to 18% is due to the Sabarimala saga. That the LDF will lose its Hindu votes to the NDA and pave for the UDF win. But despite Congress being nonplussed about its stance over women’s entry to the Lord Ayyappan’s abode, the UDF is set to garner 44% votes. This what the survey is trying to tell us.
Is that really the case? Is it because of the Hindu backlash that CPI(M) is losing and the UDF is gaining in the Lok Sabha elections?
That would be a too simplistic an analysis.
The Congress-led UDF has always outperformed the LDF in the Lok Sabha contests, except for 2004 when fratricidal wars between Antony and Karunakaran groups torpedoed the alliance, leaving Congress without a single MP from the state, when it formed the ministry at the Centre. The LDF won an astounding number of 18 seats, with CPI(M) garnering 13 and its little brother CPI winning three seats. That was an outlier performance, but it was not due to the Malayali mind’s sudden romance for Marxism-Leninism.
In 2009 and 2014, the UDF thumped the LDF. In 2009, the UDF won 16 seats, and in 2014, the alliance won 12 seats. What it generally tells us that when it comes to forming a government at the Centre, the natural favourite, Congress, gets the voter’s first preference in Kerala. It is a far from emotional reaction but built on the rationale and buttressed by developments and the rising of political temperature elsewhere too.
And if the UDF had won 12 seats in 2014, how it would not win more seats and outclass the LDF in 2019?
Here are the unemotional and political reasons. In any election, anti-incumbency is a critical factor. In 2014, the UDF had to swim against the tide and battle twin anti-incumbency. The UPA had been in power for 10 consecutive years, a magnificent electoral feat in the fragmented post-90 polity. At the state, the Oommen Chandy-led government had been in power for a considerable period, well past its honeymoon, having come to power in 2011. It was not easy to galvanise the cadre, what with decision paralysis and a callow and clueless Rahul Gandhi, helming the Congress. Still, the UDF won 12 seats. In fact, the LDF could not even offer a real political fight and had to field non-political and never-before-heard names as candidates. Think Bennet, think Christy Fernandes. And there was nothing innocent about the CPI(M)’s desperation.
So, even without an emotive Sabarimala and the blessings of Lord Ayyappan, the UDF has the excellent political opportunity to win more seats than the LDF in 2019. The UDF is out of power both at the state and the Centre. The UDF does not have to be on the defensive, without having a Christian leader now, to stop the battering rams of Hindutvawadis in the red and saffron garb. The Congress is galvanized with a determined and an evolved Rahul Gandhi leading the battle against Narendra Modi. This national election would not be decided on micro local issues and would be a fight for freedom, and against intolerance and obscurantism and the only party could be trusted to oust Modi would be Congress. Not the CPI(M), which has been wiped out of Tripura and embracing Congress for sheer survival in West Bengal. What’s the CPI(M)’s political credentials to seek votes to put up a barricade against Modi?
Even at the state-level, the decisive 91-seat win that empowered the LDF has not helped chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to steer the state to calm shores after the flood of the century. Even during the Emergency, the state has not witnessed the kind of police brutalities and the excesses that shook Kerala in the last two and half years. The CPI(M) has been truly lived up to Kerala’s Hindu party, but in more ways than one. It has eliminated democratic centralism without any space for others except Pinarayi. And its efforts to be the champion of Hindu renaissance and undercut other political formations have been crude although couched in Supreme legalese. Its budget exercises are extreme frippery and lack realism as well as imagination what with Dr Thomas Isaac not dialing Geeta Gopinath’s number not even once. He is however interested in stunts such as burger tax but without having the backbone to mobilise and collect whatever revenue that is due to the exchequer.
All these should make it clear that the UDF holds the edge in the Lok Sabha elections. In every election, there would be an emotive issue. Regarding Sabarimala, the CPI(M)’s strategy has backfired, but even if the party had succeeded in a social coup, there were other factors that would work against the LDF, despite accommodating, cat, dog and mongoose in the coalition with clearly an eye on the vote. Pinarayi even had to ditch the cop with art in his heart, Tomin Thachankary, to please the intransigent unions in the KSRTC who are hellbent on wrecking the public transport utility, to avoid the loss of votes.
But the most significant takeaway from the survey is that former chief minister Oommen Chandy is the most popular political leader with 24% of the respondents rooting for him. This is despite solar sleaze allegations and him not holding any of the key positions in the state political eco system. Despite being banished to Andhra Pradesh and the periphery of the national politics, Chandy remains the people’s choice. Remarkable. Indian Fidel Castro VS Achuthanandan comes second with 21% support. The ‘greatest’ ever chief minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, has only 18% backers. And this would have been the case, even if there was no kerfuffle over women’s entry to Sabarimala.
And for all that, the vote is not cast. Only the die is.