Fall from grace: Consecutive electoral losses stun LDF in Kerala

Multiple allegations against the government and even Pinarayi's family, and the perceived high-handedness of the administration reflected in the poll outcome.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jun 07, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedJun 07, 2024 | 9:00 AM

Multiple allegations against the government and the perceived high-handedness seemed to have influenced voting patterns. (AI-generated image/CPI(M)/X)

Back-to-back debacles in Lok Sabha elections have shocked Kerala’s CPI(M)-led LDF.

The ruling Front had approached the election raising the slogan, “No India without the Left”, which the voters, except in Alathur, rejected.

The only solace for the LDF was that it had retained its one seat, while the Congress-led UDF lost one to the BJP in Thrissur.

In 2019, the LDF won Alappuzha, which it lost to KC Venugopal of the Congress in the recently concluded election. Instead, it captured Alathur by fielding Minister K Radhakrishnan.

CPI(M) heavyweights who lost the polls included former ministers KK Shailaja and TM Thomas Isaac in Vadakara and Pathanamthitta, respectively.

Related: CPI(M) manifesto warns of ‘existential crisis’

Time for soul-searching

The consecutive defeats under the leadership of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, besides dampening the spirit of the Left camp, demanded an introspection of the CPI(M)’s political strategy and governance.

While the general sentiment was that the Left’s defeat reflected the public discontent over the second Pinarayi Vijayan government, the Left leaders explained that the state followed different voting patterns in the local body, Assembly, and Lok Sabha polls.

However, they were yet to explain why the Left has been confined to just one seat, out of Kerala’s 20, for the second consecutive term, despite the CPI(M) reminding its followers of the necessity of winning the polls to retain its national political party status.

It was to drive in the necessity that the senior LDF partner coined the slogan, “No India without the Left”.

Related: UDF dominates, BJP enters, LDF struggles

LDF underestimated BJP

A section of Left leaders and political analysts felt multiple allegations against the government and even Pinarayi’s family, and the perceived high-handedness of the administration reflected in the poll outcome.

They also believed that the LDF’s failure in effectively countering the BJP’s growing influence in the state also went against the Front.

“Historically a minor player in the state, the BJP capitalised on the people’s discontent with the LDF and UDF and presented itself as a viable alternative,” a Left leader opined.

The BJP’s well-coordinated campaign focusing on national issues, development promises, and leveraging the central government’s initiatives, resonated with a section of the electorate, especially among the youth and first-time voters,” he said.

He added that the LDF’s inability to adapt to the changing political dynamics facilitated the BJP’s incursion.

“It seems, the CPI(M), which spearheads the LDF, underestimated the BJP’s grassroots mobilisation and the appeal of its nationalist rhetoric,” he further said.

“This oversight allowed the BJP to make significant inroads, culminating in winning a Lok Sabha seat and increasing its vote share across several constituencies,” he pointed out.

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Anti-incumbency factor

A Left-leaning political analyst felt the damage grave.

Adding credence to his view was the conspicuous silence of CPI(M)’s unofficial so-called cyber warriors on social media platforms.

“A series of controversies marred Pinarayi Vijayan’s second term as chief minister,” the analyst said. “Allegations of corruption, misuse of power, and heavy-handedness in dealing with dissent were recurrent themes throughout the tenure,” he added.

Police’s aggressiveness against protests, and crackdown on voices of dissent, journalists, and activists further added to the perception of an authoritarian regime.

“Vijayan accuses Modi of being authoritative. At the same time, he behaves like one. It’s unbecoming of a Left leader. Instead of one among the masses, he consciously or unconsciously built the image that he is inaccessible and unassailable,” the analyst observed.

Also Read: ‘DYFI workers were saving lives of Youth Congress activists,’ says CM Pinarayi

‘Modi draped in dhoti’

Vijayan has often been ridiculed as mundudutha Modi (Modi clad in a dhoti) for his alleged authoritarian style of functioning.

Meanwhile, a CPI leader said that while the government made strides in infrastructure development, its ineffectiveness in disbursing welfare benefits and addressing economic mismanagement led to widespread discontent.

“Even as the government kept reiterating that the Centre has been choking the state financially, it spent the public money lavishly,” he said.

The recent Nava Kerala Yatra, a mass outreach programme, Kerala Formation Day celebrations, and the ministers’ foreign trips have been criticised for their extravaganza.

Also Read: BJP’s Christian outreach effort leaves CPI(M) fuming

CPI(M) statement mum on Kerala setback

On the day of counting, 4 June, the CPI(M) secretariat issued a media statement. It highlighted the advance made by the INDIA bloc and how the people of India discarded the politics of hate propagated by the BJP.

However, the handout remained mum on the CPI(M) setback in Kerala. It stated that a detailed analysis would be made after receiving a detailed report on the poll outcome.

A day later, Vijayan made some interesting observations while accepting the people’s mandate. 

“In Kerala, the LDF could not achieve the expected victory. The result was almost similar to that of 2019,” he said on social media.

“The activities of the state government will be implemented more efficiently by accepting the mandate of the people, examining it in-depth, and making necessary corrections. Deficiencies will be identified and corrected, the chief minister vowed.

Also Read: Celebrations in the time of ‘deep financial trouble’ draw ire

CPI(M) stuck in maths

Vijayan then went on to blame an “organised propaganda against the government”.

“Efforts will also be intensified to counter the organised propaganda against the government and to clear the misconceptions of the people,” he said.

On the BJP’s win in Thrissur, Kerala’s cultural capital, he said it was being viewed seriously.

“As a state that upholds democratic and secular values, the BJP’s victory in the Lok Sabha constituency for the first time needs to be critically evaluated,” he said, adding that the Left Democratic Front would move forward by fulfilling that responsibility properly and working with dedication to protect the secular values.

Meanwhile, CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan blamed the Congress of losing its votes in Thrissur.

“There will be victories and defeats in an election,” he turned philosophical while speaking to reporters. “The BJP opened its account since the Congress lost more than 80,000 votes in that constituency,” Govindan said.

“The LDF gained around 6,000 votes more than its tally in 2019 in Thrissur and the BJP won by a margin of over 74,000 votes this time. So, you do the maths,” he told reporters.

Also Read: Why Kerala activist removing hijab in protest has left CPI(M) squirming

Wake-up call for LDF

When repeatedly asked about the LDF’s setback, the CPI(M) leader said the party and the Front would introspect and initiate appropriate steps to regain its hold on Kerala. The increase in BJP’s vote share in several constituencies, too, would be examined, he added.

Sounding confident of a comeback,  he said the Left had bounced back from a similar situation 2019, and won the local body and the Assembly elections.

Incidentally, an NDA constituent had earlier won a Lok Sabha seat in Kerala. In 2004, PC Thomas of the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP), won from the erstwhile Muvattupuzha Lok Sabha constituency.

A year later, the IFDP merged with the Kerala Congress (Joseph), while a break-away faction joined the All India Forward Bloc in 2014.

A CPI leader summed up the poll result: The defeat is a wake-up call for the Left in Kerala, signalling the need for a thorough reassessment, he said.

“While the challenges are significant, they also present an opportunity for the Left to reconnect with the electorate, reinforce its core values, and address the emerging political realities,” he added.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).