Can ‘kit politics’ help LDF overcome corruption scandals, Sabarimala issue in Kerala?

For the first time, Kerala has seen distribution of freebies to voters on eve of polls to woo them by the LDF govt, but such gimmicks won’t affect UDF’s position in several parts of the state

Can ‘kit politics’ help LDF overcome corruption scandals, Sabarimala issue in Kerala?

Ashlin Mathew

This week several households in Kerala received more than 50 kg of rice if they had three children studying in government schools. The rice was supposed to have been given to the students as part of the mid-day meal scheme during the period spanning from June 2020 to February 2021. However, it was given at one go on the eve of the elections by the Left Democratic Front government in the state.

Such freebies have been part of Tamil Nadu’s election campaigns to overcome corruption scandals and anti-incumbency factor by consecutive governments. But not in Kerala where in fact, such political gimmicks in the neighbouring states used to be the butt of jokes.

But Kerala is now under the throes of what can be described best as ‘kit politics’. Here, charitable organisations are known to give ‘kits’ to people in need around the year, but that is what the Kerala government has reduced its people to. Giving people what is due to them is not charity. But the LDF government has been highlighting it as if it was largesse on their part.

The ‘kits’ have been dispersed at a time when the LDF government is facing heat from a string of corruption scandals such as the deep-sea trawling contract to US-based EMCC International, sale of private health data to US-based tech firm Sprinklr, the Life Mission housing scam, the dollar and gold smuggling scam and the double voter controversy. The Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has dismissed responsibility for these scams and pleaded ignorance about them, pinning the blame instead on the bureaucracy.

The LDF rode into the election season on a high with an impressive win in the local body elections held in December. However, since then and with the beginning of the election season, its popularity based on the food kit distribution has waned. The EMCC fishing scandal stuck to it with the revelation of WhatsApp chat details and the Sabarimala issue cropped up in several constituencies even as RSS thinkers began to speak of a CPI(M)-BJP deal.

Into this churn, the Congress released its justice-oriented manifesto, in contrast to the Left’s welfare-oriented manifesto. The Congress’ manifesto promises gender equality and to equip women financially. With the promise of a law on Sabarimala, it is a step backwards for women. However, several women in the state seem to want the status quo to prevail, so that it is not whipped up. The promise of zero bill hospitals in the UDF manifesto has made it come across as socially responsible and has created a positive impression amongst lower middle-class families. Additionally, the manifesto promised the ‘Rohith Vemula Act’ to eliminate discrimination in educational institutions. The manifesto also promised direct connectivity to business hubs from Kerala. After the release of the Congress manifesto, the ground began to shift.

After this, Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi stepped in as star campaigners, holding several rallies and meetings across the state. While Rahul Gandhi spoke about the economy and attacked the Left, Priyanka Gandhi directly attacked the government. In a telling event, Priyanka Gandhi’s road show garnered more support than Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign held on the same day.

Sensing the adverse trend, the Left allies began to play communal politics, attacking Muslims and Christians. Unlike earlier political campaigns, former MP Joice George, in the presence of minister MM Mani, levelled sexually charged allegations about female students with whom Rahul Gandhi had interacted. This created a negative storm on social media against the Left as it is usually the LDF which speaks about a liberated, progressive Kerala.

It is in this background that Kerala will go to vote on April 6. In north Kerala, which includes Kasargode, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts, people mostly vote along fixed party lines. Kasargode and Kannur together have 16 Assembly seats, of which 10 have for decades gone towards the Left. In the remaining six, the UDF has usually emerged victorious.

Of the seven seats in Wayanad, the UDF is likely to wrest at least three or four from the LDF. Of the 29 Assembly constituencies in Kozhikode and Malappuram, 20 support the UDF.

In Central Kerala (Palakkad, Thrissur, Eranakulam, Idukki) and South Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam), the situation is still fluid. Of the 14 Assembly constituencies in Palakkad, LDF has the upper hand in 11, while the fight is likely to be tougher in the remaining three. After the BJP inducted E Sreedharan, in Palakkad several Brahmin voters may get swayed towards the saffron party.

Thrissur district with 13 Assembly seats is also seeing a churn. Several women voters there seem to appreciate the promise of Rs 2,000 per month to home makers between the ages of 40 and 60 made by the UDF’s manifesto.

Ernakulam and Idukki are where the UDF is likely to gain the most. But this time the dynamics have changed in Idukki and Kottayam. Kerala Congress (Mani) faction, which used to be the UDF’s alliance partner, switched to the LDF camp last year. This had enabled the LDF to gain during the Panchayat elections in December 2020. However, no one is quite sure how the development will play out during the Assembly elections.

There were recent skirmishes between KC(M) groups workers and CPI(M) workers in several areas. Additionally, KC(M) chairperson Jose K Mani’s attempt to turn Christians and Muslims against each other for votes in the name of ‘love jihad’ has not gone down well amongst people who do not see it as ethical. Other than the Catholic bishops, local residents expressed reservations about those comments. This was seemingly similar to BJP state president K Surendran’s ‘love jihad’ campaign against Christians and Muslims.

Pathanamthitta, where LDF had won all the five Assembly seats last time, is likely to see upset wins by UDF candidates.

The voters in most of the constituencies along the coastal belt, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Alappuzha districts, are also likely to favour the UDF in view of the deep-sea fishing contract scam by the LDF. The Sabarimala issue too has made a comeback in Thiruvananthapuram. However, in mainland Thiruvananthapuram, the UDF may find the going tough.

In Kollam, though there are a few areas where the LDF may have support, there has been severe criticism about the candidates fielded by the LDF and the fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma, who is contesting from Kundara, a constituency in Kollam district.

Despite several surveys and channels predicting a LDF majority in the coming polls, there is no predictable wave in the state in favour of LDF. The last few days of intense campaigning will decide which way the fence sitters will go. This election season will decide also the future of ‘kit politics’ versus corruption scandals.

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Published: 02 Apr 2021, 7:39 PM