The 2019 General elections witnessed the incumbent dispensation being re-elected with a larger majority, a first for a non-Congress Government that completed its full term. The BJP won 303 seats, and the NDA won 353 seats in Toto. The Congress was able to marginally improve their performance, but it did experience a 0.03% loss in vote share while gaining an extra eight seats. The best performance for the Congress was in Kerala, where the Congress-led United Democratic Front(UDF) alliance swept 19 out of 20 seats. The BJP failed to open its account yet again, and the CPM became a single seat party. What explains the BJP’s failure, the CPM’s annihilation and UDF’s almost total success?
2019 results front wise
In simple terms, the UDF benefited out of two pronged consolidation:
Against the CPM due to the Sabarimala issue by the Majority Community
Against the BJP by the Minorities
The Hindu community in the state was more than agitated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and particularly with the Chief Minister Pinrayi Vijayan’s conduct on the Sabarimala issue. There were innumerable namajapa yatras, and the community has gone through a very deep social churning since September 2018, whose full effects are yet to pan out. A vote against the CPM was a priority for many among the majority community. The CPM tried to undercut this by playing down the issue, and laying emphasis on the ‘developmental activities’ of the State Government. The Congress raised the issue in a moderate fashion, and became the primary beneficiary of the majority consolidation. The BJP attempted to focus solely on the issue, even though the Chief Electoral Officer of Kerala restrained any mention of the issue. The Sabarimala Karma Samithi became a proxy for the BJP in this regard, with posters and flexes reminding the public of the State Government’s conduct on the issue.
The CPM attempted to underplay the whole spate of incidents, and there was scarce mention of “renaissance” or “നവോത്ഥാനം” that was a huge propaganda plank in the months preceding the election. The deescalation of the situation at Sabarimala also followed the same tactic. Then, the CPM put up the strongest candidates it can, with sitting MLAs and sitting MPs being rehashed (except for Kasargode). This paid no dividends, with even very popular MLAs like Pradeepkumar losing by a huge margin in Kozhikode, and MB Rajesh, the very popular legislator from Palakkad lost to VK Sreekandan of the UDF.
UDF Voteshare, 2019
LDF Voteshare, 2019
Party wise results
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the UDF went out of their way to pitch for votes from the minority community in the state. What Kerala experienced in Kerala can be described as competitive anti-Hindutva. The Left presented itself as the true alternative to Modi, and called Congress the “b-team” of the RSS, while the Congress pointed out the national irrelevance of the Communist parties and the left, and that Rahul Gandhi was the only true leader capable of putting forward a challenge against Narendra Modi. That image was thoroughly reinforced with Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest in Wayanad. The CPM’s campaign slogan was “വർഗീയത വീഴും, വികസനം വാഴും, ഇത് കേരളമാണ് ” (Communalism will fall, Development will reign, This is Kerala!) It should have probably said “Communism will fall” though (Poor Joke alert). The minority communities have however, overwhelmingly backed the UDF, as can be seen from the margins of the IUML in Malappuram and Ponanni and Congress candidates across the Christian belt in the south.
The ‘Ariff theory’
My father pointed out that the only victory that the CPM was able to achieve, that of AM Ariff in Alappuzha is emblematic of the CPM statergy. Ariff is a popular legislator from Aroor and scraped by in Alappuzha with a margin of 10,474 votes. His victory might have to do with Shanimol Usman, the Congress Candidate’s relatively lower profile to KC Venugopal, who was the sitting MP. Another fact is that the BJP’s Dr. KS Radhakrishnan performed very strongly, finishing with 17.24% of the vote share, compared to NDA ally RSP(B)’s 4.3% in 2014 and a combined 12.88% in the Legislative Assembly elections.
As I had noted in my Swarajya article before the elections, the CPM strategy was an attempt to split the vote leakage that it will face, and push very hard on the Anti-Hindtuva platform to gain minority votes. Unfortunately, the vote base that deserted the CPM went almost entirely to the UDF, with BJP gaining only slightly.
The BJP performed below expectations, with a single second place finish in Thiruvanthapuram and a failure to even finish second in Thrissur or Pathanamthitta. The BJP did however make significant headway in Attingal and Alappuzha. It is very likely that some voters that it had captured in 2016 voted for the Congress because it viewed them as having a better shot at defeating the CPM. An example can be Kozhikode North constituency which forms part of Kozhikode Lok Sabha constituency (obviously). One can look at the stats below:2014 General ElectionsKozhikode NorthMK RaghavanINC4789940.19A VijayaraghavanCPM4638038.92CK PadmanabhanBJP1991816.712016 Assembly electionsKozhikode NorthPM Suresh BabuINC3631927.39A Pradeep KumarCPM6419248.4KP SreesanBJP2986022.522019 General ElectionsKozhikode NorthMK RaghavanINC5424640.37A PradeepkumarCPM4968836.98Prakash BabuBJP2866521.33
Pradeep Kumar is a very popular legislator in the constituency, yet you see that a section of CPM voters have clearly chosen Raghavan in the 2019 elections, as have a section of BJP voters as well (Considering First time voters into the equation as well).
Koduvally, which also forms part of Kozhikode Lok Sabha Constituency, also shows the effect of Minority consolidation clearly. Koduvally is a Muslim dominated constituency, and it gave a substantial lead of more than 36,000 votes to MK Raghavan. As can be seen here:2014 General ElectionsKoduvallyMK RaghavanINC5849450.09A VijayaraghavanCPM4189535.87CK PadmanabhanBJP90417.742016 Assembly electionsKoduvallyMA Razak MasterIUML6046044.01Karat RazackIND/LDF6103344.42Ali AkbarBJP115378.42019 General ElectionsKoduvallyMK RaghavanINC8168958.08A PradeepkumarCPM4578132.55Prakash BabuBJP116828.31
Substantially more voters turned out than in a normal General Election, who tended to vote for the UDF. The turnout was on par with an Assembly election than a General election, and since the vote gains where made by the UDF, it is clear that the enthusiasm was on both grounds – Majority and minority consolidation.
Whether or not the Hindu vote which deserted CPM over Sabarimala will stay with the UDF will be known only in the 2021 legislative assembly elections.
A data table of the NDA’s performance in Kerala in 2014 General Elections, 2016 Assembly elections and 2019 General Elections.ConstituencyVote Percentage + / – (Latest)20142016 (Projection)20192019-2016Kasargod17.718.0516-2.05Kannur5.58.816.5-2.31Vadakara811.227.52-3.7Wayanad8.88.647.22-1.42Kozhikode12.316.1614.98-1.18Malapurram7.67.487.960.48Ponnani8.68.310.872.57Palakkad1518.8421.262.42Alathur9.514.68.32-6.28Thrissur11.219.5628.28.64Chalakuddy10.515.1715.570.4Ernakulam11.614.514.24-0.26Idduki6.213.298.56-4.73Kottayam5.315.3817.041.66Alappuzha4.312.8717.244.37Mavelikkara918.6113.75-4.86Pathanamthitta1618.7628.9710.21Kollam6.713.6310.672.96Attingal10.517.6724.697.02Thiruvananthapuram32.327.3331.33.97
BJP voteshare, 2019
The BJP has substantially improved their performance in the past 5 years, though they have not been able to win a seat. A more captive vote bank seems to be emerging for them in Thiruvanthapuram, Thrissur and Pathanamthitta. Growth in Kasargode has been limited, with only Manjeshwaram and Udma being areas where the BJP is able win around 40,000 to 50,000 votes regularly. Attingal, where Shoba Surendran stood, had unexpected growth for the BJP. It can also be observed that the four seats where BDJS stood experienced a vote leakage vis-a-vis the 2016 results – the seats are Mavelikkara, Alathur, Wayanad and Idduki. In the Northern constituencies, the BJP experienced vote loss across the board, and it is very likely that the margins of the Congress candidates in these constituencies (might) have a correlation.
While the 2016 Assembly results pointed towards a decline in the fortunes of the Congress, it seems that the Sabarimala issue and national politics have given it a quick rebirth. The Communist vote base has taken a severe beating with the combined vote share of the entire (LDF) being a mere 35.11%, while the INC alone has 37.3% and the UDF in its entirety received 47% of the vote share. A 12 point difference whereas in 2016’s left sweep, the difference was 4.67%. The Left managed to finish first in only 16 legislative assembly constituencies, with BJP bagging one and the rest with the UDF. The left has a lot of rebuilding to do, especially after recent events.