‘It will be a hung assembly in Kerala’

‘Kerala voters vote from their mind rather than their heart.’

“For the last four decades, power alternated between the two fronts — the UDF and the LDF, but this time there are three fronts in the race — UDF, LDF and NDA. The NDA is a serious contender,” notes Dr Suresh R, professor and head of the department of political science at the University of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram.

One of the earliest 16 universities of India, it was founded as the University of Travancore by the maharaja of Travancore in 1937. According to the university’s Web site, it made an unsuccessful attempt to invite Albert Einstein as its first vice-chancellor.

Dr Suresh, a professor with 25 years of postgraduate teaching experience, tells Rediff.com‘s Archana Masih why this election could throw up a surprise in Kerala.

How is this assembly election in Kerala different from elections of the past?

For the last four decades, power alternated between the two fronts — the UDF and the LDF, but this time there are three fronts in the race — UDF, LDF and NDA.

The NDA is a serious contender and has fielded some very good candidates. If one travels through the state one will find that they are very much visible.

As a student of political science, I think this will be a hung assembly. None of the three fronts will get a clear majority to form the government.

What will be the impact of the BJP in this election?

The electorate will not reveal what is in its mind. We as academics who meet students from different parts of Kerala can make out that there will be a hung assembly. The votes will be divided among the three fronts.

Some poll surveys have said the LDF will make history and return to power.

This could be a belief in the LDF, but normally Kerala looks for a new configuration after every five years.

Even if the LDF’s performance has been good — for example, they have implemented some innovative programmes in public education, health and provided amenities to the poor in these two sectors — yet, I believe people would like to have a new front in power.

Kerala has a very different voting behaviour. The voters are reserved and never reveal what is in their mind. They vote from their mind rather than heart. People in other states, especially the north-east and north to some extent, reveal what is in their minds. It is very difficult to know the mind of the electorate in Kerala.

It is very tricky and you cannot go by the ornamental comments made by the electorate during poll surveys.

The Congress is ridden with factionalism in the state. How will it affect its performance?

In Kerala only 20% people are member or supporters of a party or ideology, while 80% do not have such affiliations. It is this 80% that decide who gets elected.

The Congress is a divided house, but more than a political party they are a pressure group — one among the groups that have come together with the aim of capturing power. They have prominent people who play a role in the selection of candidates.

A peculiar feature of Kerala is whether it is the UDF, LDF or NDA, their candidates are selected based on the social structure of a particular constituency. If a particular caste or religious group is dominant in that constituency, every front will field a candidate from that front.

They all claim that they are secular, but they go by caste/religion because the winnability of the candidate is most important.

In the Congress there are groups and sub groups. This is also because they are accommodative of the aspirations of different groups and each of these group represents a particular caste group or pressure group in the social fabric.

Since the Congress-led UDF won 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, how crucial is it for the Congress to do well in Kerala for its own future?

Many surveys predicted that it would be 10 odds seats each for both the fronts in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Even the UDF was surprised that they got 19 seats and the LDF got 1.

Even if the Left accepts it or not, at that time Sabrimala was a big issue in the public domain. Different groups that have some faith in any religion had voted for the UDF front.

In this assembly election also we cannot decide the arithmetic in the minds of the electorate because instead of a division of votes between two fronts like in the last 10-12 elections, this time votes are going to be divided among three fronts.

Nobody knows whether it will be to the advantage of the UDF or LDF. We have to wait till May 2.

As far as poll surveys go, I feel they are marketing strategies and have no value at all.

Can Rahul Gandhi swing the voters?

He is a crowd puller, especially for the youth. Even in Tamil Nadu, film stars are a big crowd pullers, but I don’t think that translates into votes. It does not mean they will vote for him.

Sabrimala is an emotive issue. How important is it in this election? What is the Hindutva factor in Kerala?

All religious denominations have apprehensions of interference of the state in their freedom.

Even on the Sabrimala issue, Christians supported the agitators because they feared that tomorrow it might happen to them. We cannot give a Hindutva colour to the Sabrimala factor. This apprehension also impacted the outcome of the 2019 election.

Some even say the 2026 election will be between the LDF and BJP?

There are several articles in local papers about the BJP wanting a Congress-mukt Kerala. The UDF or Congress is not going to disappear by the next election. The Congress has been supported by various other parties which represent various social groups.

What impact will the results of the assembly elections in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry have on the politics of the country?

I don’t think it will have a direct impact on national politics. Every election is different. The content and context of a local level election is different from state election. Similarly, state elections are different from national elections. Of course, if it goes in favour of a particular party, they will get a moral high ground in the politics of India.

  • Kerala Polls
  • Elections 2021

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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