Outwardly, the results of the exit polls in both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu aren’t surprising because they follow the historical trend of alternating governments and the unavoidable burden of anti-incumbency. However, on a closer look, both the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu have something to worry about.
In Tamil Nadu, besides the alternating governments, there is one more interesting trend: the party/front that wins the Lok Sabha elections necessarily loses the next assembly election. This time Kerala is also poised to follow this trend.
Let’s look at Kerala first.
The exit poll results in the state are not surprising. Firstly because of the people’s electoral habit of keeping the ruling front away for five years however good a government it was, and also this time there was a visible wave against the ruling UDF. In the first few years of its rule, it was doing well as the results of the two by elections for state assembly and the Lok Sabha elections demonstrated. However by the time the local body elections rolled in, not only did it begin to falter, it really started tripping. In more than 60 percent of the local bodies, the LDF won and the UDF never recovered since then. The BJP had also made some considerable inroads into an otherwise bipolar state.
In fact, this was also the time the government began sinking in scandals and factional fight, both within the UDF and the Congress. While the UDF partners went somewhat rogue, the Congress, the captain of the UDF, was literally plodding under the weight of corruption and internal fights. In the worsening mess of scandals, three leaders of the Congress, the Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, the Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, and the Kerala Pradesh Congress President VM Sudheeran were fighting, not for the success of their party, but amongst themselves.
It’s impossible to buck the trend when one is at such a disadvantage. Oomen Chandy scored well early on with his public programmes. He sought to solve people’s grievances on the spot. He worked tirelessly, spent most of his time at work and with the people. He was emerging as a unique leader, quite akin to Bihar’s Nitish Kumar. (Even today, after VS Achuthanandan, he is the most popular CM candidate). The state made good roads, bridges and began several landmark infrastructure projects.
But, all the goodwill and equity that he created were washed away by the ‘solar scandal’, in which he himself appeared to be one of the central characters, and the ‘bar bribery case’ that felled the senior most minister of his cabinet, KM Mani. There were many accusations, where the state opposition and most of the state’s electronic media set out to prove that everything his government did had graft and kickbacks.
What should be more worrying for the Congress, is not the mere loss of power, but the fact that it lost after the emergence of the BJP and the BDJS. The latter is a brand new party led by a prominent community leader of the Ezhava caste which is the majority among the Hindus.
It was evident that the BJP, with the support of the BDJS, would ramp up its vote-share, possibly up to 18 per cent, and these votes would leak from both the UDF and the LDF. Since the BJP-BDJS votes are purely Hindu, conventional wisdom makes one think that LDF will take a bigger hit because about 60 percent of the Hindus in the state back them. But what seems to be happening at the grassroots is exactly the opposites — the BJP-BDJS is eating into the meagre Hindu support base of the UDF and the Congress. It’s a very very bad sign and can weaken the Congress and the UDF on a more permanent basis.
If this trend continues, BJP gaining strength in the state is more harmful for the Congress/UDF than the LDF. If the exit polls turn out to be true, the LDF can be more or less certain that its Hindu vote-base — mostly the Ezhavas, the SC and some upper castes like the Nair community — is intact and that the UDF vote-base is likely to shrink. If the Congress is unable to keep its minority partners — the Muslims and Christians — together, it may face a further erosion because in the face of a BJP consolidation, the minorities might find some reason to jump ships. In the popular discourse, the Left is anyway the saviour of the minorities. Certainly, the Congress is going through a tough time. All that it can hope for in the next elections is anti-incumbency.
In Tamil Nadu, the exit poll results also show another trend — the absence of a visible wave. In fact, there was no visible anti-incumbency in the state and reports by local journalists from the field show that people seem to favour Amma’s return. When AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran was alive, it was always clear that nobody could beat him, but since then, the Dravidian parties have taken turns to be in power.
Jaya indeed had a bright chance this time with her social welfare policies and programmes. More than infrastructure, general economic growth and industries, she focussed more on people’s welfare and had promised more. But, looks like people want a more balanced package of growth and welfare and not just food and home appliances.
In Tamil Nadu, it’s not pure anti-incumbency, but the deep electoral instinct of the people. Unlike in Kerala, they vote more decisively in favour of one party/front. They use their votes to punish the incumbent if they were unhappy and their voting behaviour is uniform across the state.
If the AIADMK loses, it will be a big blow to AIADMK because there are also some concerns about Jaya’s health. She always came back from the dumps in the past, but staying out of power and running the party with poor health and old age will be difficult.
On the other hand, if the DMK wins, it will be a victory in the nick of time. Stalin is all ready to take over the mantle after years of on ground training and is relatively younger. After his father, he has absolute control over the party. Given that majority of the voters are young people with aspirations, he has a brighter future if he manages to deliver on his promises of infrastructure, economic growth, jobs and welfare.
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