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Ezhavas turn king-makers: the Hindu vote bank is now critical in Kerala

Binoo K John | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

In central Kerala's Etumanoor constituency, the sitting CPI(M) MLA and former MP Suresh Kurup is fighting a bruising battle to retain his seat. It's not that his UDF opponent Joseph Chazhikadan whom he defeated by about 1,500 votes last time, has suddenly rediscovered the art of felling Marxists. The key to a candidate's win here, rests on the strength and voting patterns of two communities: the Christian Knanaya community and the influential Hindu Ezhavas, both of whom number around 25,000 in Etumanoor.

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Chazhikadan lost some of the Christian votes last time due to Kurup's popularity in Kottayam from where he's been elected MP three times. CPM workers in the area told this reporter that of the 23,000 Ezhava votes, 16,000 are committed CPM voters , and a majority of the rest will vote for the BJP this time instead of the UDF, thus swinging the battle the CPM way. Kurup also admitted to this reporter that they are working on consolidating the Ezhava votes.

This is the same drama that's being played out in most Kerala constituencies, with both the Left and the Congress-led-UDF trying to grapple with the question of the Ezhava vote. Marxist workers whom this reporter spoke to, asserted that the Ezhavas will not desert the CPM since they've been dedicated supporters over the years.

"Vellappally Natesan (leader of the newly formed Ezhava party, BDJS) does not have the clout among the community," one of them said. That confidence may be slightly misplaced since many voters feel that the BDJS will be a better way of asserting Ezhava identity in the long run, instead of losing themselves in the larger Left vote bank.

The Ezhava vote is in the spotlight in Kerala and will alter the way these elections swing

Yet another factor that will work against the Congress is its prohibition policy. The policy has broken the backbone of a huge segment of the Ezhavas who have for long been in the liquor business in Kerala. Their disapproval of prohibition might lead to them backing the Left, which has been selectively amnesiac about the prohibition policy.

The BJP campaign has for the first time created the concept of a Hindu vote in Kerala, though Hindu revivalism is a far cry. " Hindu communalism has become a matter of discussion here like never before. This was not an issue that was ever celebrated here," novelist KR Meera, Sahitya Akademi award winner this year for her critically acclaimed Hangwoman, told this reporter in Kottayam.

CPM candidate Suresh Kurup campaigning in Ettumanoor constituency. Photo: Binoo John

A larger consolidated Hindu vote will remain a BJP pipe-dream for a long time in Kerala. But the BJP- BDJS alliance is set to carve out Ezhava votes mostly from the LDF, disrupting the voting pattern, and skewing the results in many constituencies. "Ezhava votes will move to the BJP to some extent and this will hurt the Left," said Cryspin, a house boat owner in Kumarakom who is a Congress supporter. This is what happened in the Aruvikkara by-election last year.

Also read- Kerala Elections: a litmus test for state strength for Congress, Left & BJP

How is the UDF handling this challenge? Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said in a speech in Puthuppally constituency in Kottayam, that the Congress has always been the main rival of the BJP in all parts of the country. The very fact that he raised the issue of the BJP which he has never really taken seriously, shows that the Congress fears a drop in Hindu votes in certain places. Also, by presenting the BJP as a future threat, the Congress hopes that the Muslim votes across the state will not move away from the UDF. If there is one reason that the BJP has never won, it is because Muslims have voted strategically to keep out the BJP at any cost in places where they have posed a serious challenge.

The UDF is seen as a government of the minority Christians and Muslims. So the Ezhavas have every reason to vote for the Left whose chief ministerial candidate is also from their community. The Ezhavas are all set to play King-maker in Kerala.

Edited by Anna Verghese

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First published: 10 May 2016, 4:38 IST