Kerala: Polling begins in the wake of contrasting campaigns and conflicting claims

The polling percentage in the state at the end of the day might provide some clue to which way the wind is blowing. But the last day of campaigning by the LDF and the UDF was equally revealing

Kerala: Polling begins in the wake of contrasting campaigns and conflicting claims

Ashlin Mathew

The last day of campaigning in Kerala was symbolic of how each party fared this campaign season. On April 4, LDF’s star campaigner and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan held a final road show in his constituency Dharmadom in a modified red Mahindra SUV with actors Prakash Raj, Indrans and Madhupal in attendance. Just a day before in the evening, a mega cultural programme titled ‘Vijayam’ was organised. It saw the likes of actors Innocent, Suhasini Maniratnam, Sithara, Navya Nair, and singers TM Krishna, Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali and the band Thaikuddam Bridge, many of whom are known to be Left supporters.

The programme was titled ‘Vijayam’, meaning victory, and was marked by effusive praise showered on the chief minister. Some in the audience scoffed later saying it seemed like a finale, the beginning of the end to their term. In the LDF, nobody other than Pinarayi Vijayan mattered.

UDF’s last day of campaigning began with Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi spending the Easter afternoon in his constituency and culminated in a corner meeting in Nemom constituency, where K Muraleedharan is taking on BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan. Media was rife with rumours that factionalism was the reason Priyanka Gandhi had not campaigned for the most prestigious fight in Thiruvananthapuram. Rahul Gandhi’s impressive speech and endorsement of Muraleedharan doused those rumours. It did justice to the strong fight being put up by the Vadakkara MP in the constituency. Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala campaigned in Idukki, after spending Saturday in his constituency Haripad and in Thiruvalla. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy spent the day in his constituency.

BJP’s campaigning in the state was riddled with missteps. They dispatched Finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman on Easter Sunday morning to campaign in the predominantly Christian region in Pathanamthitta district, Thiruvalla. Expectedly, only a handful of people turned up. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi did the same thing. He came for campaigning in Konni, which too has a sizeable Christian population, on Good Friday afternoon when most people were in the church.

LDF has been hoping for re-election, an event that has not happened in Kerala since 1977. Kerala has alternated between LDF and UDF governments since then. LDF went into the election season riding on a high, with almost every survey predicting their victory with more than 90 seats, some even went far to suggest 100 seats of the 140 Assembly constituencies.

But, within two weeks, the tables began to turn. It became evident that Congress had released a good candidate list, notwithstanding the drama by Mahila Congress leader Lathika Subhash who was denied a ticket. It was forgotten by the time both LDF and UDF released their manifestoes.

It became clear that UDF’s manifesto, which was prepared after speaking to people, had much more to offer than LDF. It aimed to correct injustices and provide for opening up of the economy. LDF had hoped to bank on Pinarayi Vijayan’s strongman image and the kits they had given people all through Covid-19. But, they had used it to the hilt during the local body elections in December 2020.

In addition to this, Opposition leader Chennithala continued to cite one corruption scandal after the other - the deep-sea trawling contract to US-based EMCC International worth Rs 5,000 crore, sale of private health data to another US-based tech firm Sprinklr, the Life Mission housing scam, dollar and gold smuggling scam. But, the Chief Minister brushed away each of them with a stock response that he did not know about these scams. He blamed them all on the bureaucracy. People were clearly left sceptical.

It is into this cauldron that the siblings Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi went on road shows and attended corner meetings. They helped change the mood. Almost all the people who turned up at their meetings and roadshows were not brought in by Congress workers. People had turned up on their own. Older women, children, students and young men were taken in by them. The Gandhis appeared accessible, pleasant, humane and simple, with no airs of star campaigners.

Congress also alleged rampant fraud in the voters list. They approached the Election Commission and High Court regarding the bogus votes added extensively across constituencies. When the Election Commission did not give a satisfactory reply, the entire list of bogus voters was released online, revealing the extent of fraud.

It shocked many, but several media organisations did not give it the prominence it deserved. This was followed by the revelation that unlike what the LDF-led state government had claimed, the EMCC International contract had not been withdrawn. Moreover, it came to light that the Kerala state Electricity Board had entered into a 25-year agreement with Adani Group in spite of being a surplus power state.

The LDF edge slowly began to chip away. Undercurrents and possible upset wins by UDF began to be reported from all districts especially central and south Kerala, where LDF had hoped to gain. In Central Kerala (Palakkad, Thrissur, Eranakulam, Idukki) and South Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam) districts, it has been a neck-to-neck battle.

However, in Central Kerala UDF seems to have an edge in 16 seats, LDF in 14 and the fight is tough in 16 seats. In south Kerala, LDF has an edge in 12 seats, UDF in 6 seats and a photo finish battle in 16 seats. In north Kerala (Kasargode, Kannur, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Malappuram), UDF and LDF lead in 23 seats each, but the remaining 14 seats could go either way.

Polling day voting percentages will provide a clue as to which way the state will sway.

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