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Hindu backlash thwarts Chandy's dreams of retaining Kerala

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

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala was riding on what it thought was a winning development formula.

Instead, it was crushed by an unseen but angry Nair-Ezhava backlash for running a ''Christian-Muslim' backed government, and also for its prohibition policy, which broke the back of the lower- and middle-class Ezhava segments, which are traditionally strong in the liquor market.

The fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did well, winning one and finishing second on seven seats, is another indication that the larger Hindu community preferred to teach the 'minority-run' UDF government a lesson, and bring in a Left Democratic Front (LDF) government which will, in any case, be more Hindu in character.

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Most Hindu voters preferred to vote for anti-UDF combinations, piling on the votes for the LDF, which is set to get 84 seats, with the overflow going to the BJP, which is in alliance with the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), an Ezhava party.

Also an incredible confluence of favourable events helped the CPM. A large number of Muslims voted for them to stop the rise of the BJP especially in areas where there is a RSS-CPM conflict. Hence the CPM swept the northern Kerala district of Kannur, the vortex of the CPM-RSS conflict. Here the Muslims felt that they would be the next target and maybe rightly so. So every possible communal and caste logic worked in CPM's favour making it a massive sweep. Every segment of the population found some logic in voting for the CPM, either for protection or revenge. The CPM presented themselves as one with all the answers.

What led to Chandy's downfall

It has been some time since there has been such an angry undercurrent against a government which has done reasonably well on most development parameters.

The Indian Union Muslim League had six ministers in the Oommen Chandy government, while there were also six Christian ministers. Two districts, Kottayam and Malappuram, dominated the cabinet. There was a perception that this was skewed, and it has now been proven right.

In districts like Kollam in the south and Kannur in the north, the UDF was completely wiped out. What is surprising is that it was impossible to gauge this resentment, and even in CPI(M) rallies, which this writer witnessed, there weren't unprecedented crowds.

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In Thiruvananthapuram, a former bar owner belonging to the Ezhava community told me that 700 bars were shut down, each of which employed or helped about 100 people.

This created a ripple effect of deprivation in Kerala, which has no industrial or agricultural backbone. The anger was simmering.

In retrospect, one can now say the UDF lost even its own Ezhava votes, and none of the Christian and Muslim votes were enough to prop up the Chandy government for another term. Significantly, CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat had said in Kerala that the prohibition policy is not going to work.

Boost for flagging CPM

The huge victory is a boost for the CPI(M), which failed again in West Bengal. It gives Sitaram Yechury the muscle and breathing space to reorient his party's programmes, moving completely away from the dogmatic positions that Karat had forced the party to take.

Such hints have been dropped by Thomas Isaac, who is likely to be finance minister for the second time. In this endeavour, Yechury will be supported by the more pragmatic Pinarayi Vijayan, the party's state secretary, who is most likely to be Chief Minister, rolling over the undying ambitions of the 93-year-old VS Achuthanandan, who will fight to the end to get the top seat.

Does this mean bigger things for the BJP in Kerala? It may not be, since the Left Front has now shown that it has enough space within itself to mop up Hindu votes.

(The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.)

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 19 May 2016, 2:06 IST