The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the CPM, has notched up an impressive victory in the recent local body elections in Kerala, and the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the Congress, has suffered a major setback. The results of the elections are important for two reasons. One is that the state is heading for Assembly elections early next year and the performance of the two contending fronts could provide an indication of the likely outcome.
There was also increased interest in the elections because the LDF government of Pinarayi Vijayan has been under pressure in recent months because of a number of cases and scandals. The Chief Minister’s Office came under scrutiny in a gold smuggling case which central agencies are investigating. The state CPM secretary had to go on leave after his son was alleged to be involved in a drug-related money laundering case.
But the LDF seems to have weathered the adverse situation and come out on top. It won most of the municipal corporations and district, block and gram panchayats. The success may owe much to its handling of two consecutive floods and the Covid-19 situation, especially in the early stages, and its welfarist programmes. It has always claimed that it was being politically targeted by the central agencies and the opposition.
The results show that the opposition’s contentions have not been taken seriously by voters and they may be taken as a vote on the government’s track record and an affirmation of confidence in it. The LDF also admitted into its fold a faction of the Kerala Congress which was part of the UDF before the elections. Kerala has a tradition of voting out governments every five years but going by the local poll results, there does not seem to be a strong anti-incumbency sentiment working against the LDF government currently.
Congress has claimed that the party’s support base is intact, but it has suffered substantial political and psychological damage. There are accusations against the leadership from within the party and allies have blamed it for bringing the alliance down. Issues like poor selection of candidates, a clandestine understanding with a party linked with the Jamaat-e-Islami, and declining support from Christians, who have been an important support base of the party, are being highlighted as reasons for Congress’ poor performance.
The BJP has improved its performance from earlier elections, though it will be disappointed by its failure to meet its own expectations. The UDF will have to raise itself to a new level if it has to challenge the LDF successfully in the Assembly elections, though the dynamic and issues of state-level elections will be different form local body polls.