Sabarimala, Rahul behind UDF's historic win in Kerala

Sabarimala, Rahul behind UDF's historic win in Kerala

LS Polls 2019: Counting Day Kochi: United Democratic Front supporters celebrate the party's decisive lead in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, outside the party office in Kochi, Thursday, May 23, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Unlike the rest of India, Kerala voted for the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and gave them 19 seats. The ruling Left Front could only retain one seat.

This is the second historic win for the UDF in Kerala after 1977 when the alliance won all 20 seats. The government in the state shifts from the Left Front to the UDF and vice versa in each Assembly election. However, in the general elections, Kerala seems to prefer the Congress-led UDF and has given the Left Front a mandate only a few times.

Kerala fought the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on a number of issues. A major one was the Supreme Court verdict that struck down a ban on women of menstruation age entering Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala. A series of protests erupted after the verdict and shook the state government led by CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan for its stand on implementing the order despite discontent among devotees.

The discontent was used by the BJP to reach out to more people and they emerged as the main Opposition in the state. The BJP said they supported the sentiments of devotees and they managed to stall the entire state for days. Widespread violence occurred during the BJP hartals.

The UDF took a stand against the ruling Left Front with peaceful protests. They also described themselves as standing with the devotees.

Fearing a blowback in the elections, the Left Front fielded strong faces that included four MLAs. The Congress countered them with senior leaders. The BJP-led NDA also chose known faces. They even recalled outspoken Hindutva leader Kummanam Rajashekharan from his post of governor in Mizoram to contest against Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram.

Though the chief election commissioner in Kerala prohibited the use of the Sabarimala issue to seek votes, the BJP and the UDF discretely made use of the issue. There was a belief that the BJP might make some inroads. The result, however, shows that the UDF reaped the benefits. The BJP did not get a single seat.

Rahul Gandhi's entry

The sudden declaration of the candidature of Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad as his second constituency was received overwhelmingly by the UDF camp. Though he described his candidature in Wayanad as a way to bridge the divide between the North and the South, it actually helped the Congress to reduce the divisions among various groups in the party and alliance.

Rahul's Kerala entry charged the UDF activists to work together for each candidate. Lethargy suddenly gave way to synergy. This impacted all 20 seats in the state. Eight UDF candidates among the 19 got a win margin of over one lakh. Rahul himself clocked around 8 lakh, an election record.

Apart from Sabarimala and Rahul, the catastrophic flooding last year and the slow rehabilitation work also impacted the election. The state government could not hasten the state's recovery.

Moreover, there was an anti-Modi wave in the state, especially rising from the government's failure to check cow vigilante and religious violence and due to growing unemployment. In this scenario, the Congress is seen as an alternative to counter the BJP at the Centre. Votes from discontentment among Hindus over Sabarimala, along with votes from Muslims, minorities and backward communities have gone to the UDF, which is evident in the vote margin.

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