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Decoding Kerala Assembly Election 2021: Will History Be Created Or Repeated?

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Ask anyone who’s going to win the Kerala assembly election 2021, the spontaneous answer will come as the United Democratic Front (UDF) headed by Congress. This is because of Kerala’s long history of alternate governments by UDF led by Congress and LDF led by Left front. Earlier, the Congress-led front was called the United Front where even CPI was an alliance partner after the dispute between CPI and CPM post splitting of the Communist party.

Similarly, the previous version of LDF was Left front which even accommodated at times various faction of the congress party post-split in 1969. However, after the fall of Morarji Desai’s Janata Party government at the centre in 1979, there were a lot of orientations and conciliations of parties through various alliances. In 1980, the present form of LDF and UDF emerged in Kerala polity and since then they are in power in alternative tenures. LDF won the assembly elections in 1980, 1987, 1996, 2006, and 2016.

Similarly, UDF won the alternative assembly elections of 1982, 1991, 2001, and 2011. That means if history repeats itself, then Congress-led UDF should have won the 2021 assembly election. Thus, you can’t disagree with the spontaneous answer to the question asked at the beginning.

The point is whether history will repeat or will there be a creation of new history? Well, LDF is confident that they will create history this time in retaining power. Their confidence is based upon the fact that they have created a new history in retaining the local body election 2020 and, thus the same thing may happen in the upcoming assembly election too. Then at the pan India level, Congress has been a depleting force since 2014. Thus, LDF’s claim has merit.

On the other hand, Congress-led UDF is depending upon history to display confidence that they will win the upcoming assembly election. Their core vote bank is minority communities (Muslims and Christians) and in Kerala, the minority communities are the largest in India. The question is- which party will you put your money on? Let’s have a data-based analysis before that.

As most of my analysis is based on vote share distributions, I have tried to get the vote share of various parties and alliances of various Kerala Assembly elections. Unfortunately, although I got seat distributions, I couldn’t get the vote share distribution from any platform. I got the vote share distribution of alliances LDF, UDF, and NDA/BJP since 1991 and have compiled as below in a tabular form for better understanding. So, let us decode the Kerala polity. We can consider that the previous vote share would be the same as the vote shares of the 1991 election to the 2011 elections.

Kerala vote share and seat share distribution.

The overall vote shares sometimes become very confusing. For example, in 1991 LDF lost the election despite having more vote share than UDF. UDF’s vote share was 44.84% whereas LDF’s vote share was 45.88%. Again in 1996, both alliances polled exactly the same vote share, yet the seats won are diametrically opposite. In 1991, UDF won 90 seats compared to LDF’s 48 seats. In 1996, with the same vote share, UDF got just 59 seats compared to LDF’s 80 seats.

That means the number of seats won depends on which area polling is better. However, Kerala polity proves one thing that to win more seats, UDF needs less overall vote share compared to that of LDF. For example, LDF got 40 seats with a 43.7% vote share in 2001 whereas UDF won 42 seats in 2006 having 42.98%. UDF also won 47 seats in 2016 despite having a 38.81% overall vote share, but then I will come to that bit later on.

Let us keep the 2016 assembly result aside now. So up until 2011, the swing voters were just 0.5% to 1% to change the government. Only in 2007, the vote share difference was more than 5% yet UDF wasn’t decimated. The reason is very simple.

The change constituencies are ensuring the change of government by just 0.5% to 1% margin of swing. The core constituencies remain intact. In Kerala, LDF’s core vote bank is majority Hindus whereas UDF’s core vote bank is the minority community (Muslims and Christians).

BJP announced Sreedharan as its chief minister candidate for Kerala Assembly Elections 2021. Photo: PTI Photo

I use the term ‘vote bank’ in the sense that nearly 70% of the community votes for the alliance/party. The minority communities live in concentrated areas making them even a majority in many constituencies whereas Hindus are scattered throughout the state. That’s why with a lesser vote share, UDF got a better strike rate in winning the number of seats.

To understand this, let us look into the 2016 election vote share. UDF’s vote share reduced to 38.88% yet it maintained 47 seats (a little more when it loses the election). Why was it so? It’s because BJP has increased its vote share from an average 5% to a staggering 14.96%. No doubt BJP has taken away Hindu votes from both LDF and UDF. But then LDF lost around 3% vote share whereas UDF lost around 7% vote share. Congress lost its 7% vote share (of majority community) especially in minority-dominated constituencies thus it maintained its 40 plus seats despite the lowest vote share in a losing election of 2016.

If BJP retains its same vote share of 15%, then the swing constituencies will make UDF win again provided Congress cedes no more vote share to BJP. If it cedes its Hindu vote share in swing constituencies even to half a per cent, the LDF will retain power because the extra 30 plus seats needed to win the election comes from these swing constituencies.

Interestingly, in the recently concluded local body elections especially in rural local bodies, Congress ceded Hindu votes to BJP and thus LDF retained its power in those local bodies. LDF also expects that BJP would eat away more Hindu votes from swing constituencies so that LDF retains power. Many experts also think it is a possibility because of the poor management of Congress leadership.

The vacuum at central leadership of Congress and the factionalism may take a toll on the Kerala Congress organization too. The point is when people see an organization is weakening, they either go to the possible victor or a possible alternative that’s called BJP at the moment in Kerala polity.  So, in either case, LDF will be benefitted.

How can UDF win?

It is very simple. Either BJP’s vote share reduces 5% like earlier elections or its vote share increases at the cost of LDF’s Hindu vote bank. The first option doesn’t sound possible at the moment as BJP is in an upward trend and the second option looks difficult although not impossible (for example, in Tripura, BJP managed to eat away even the Left cadres to win the assembly election). In case BJP really eats away a sizable chunk of LDF’s Hindu vote bank, then who knows even BJP can be a stakeholder in the Kerala power corridor!

Let me explain how it works.

Depending on the types of polity, a political party needs a threshold level vote share to get a seat. Sometimes it might be 10% or 20% (although with a lesser vote share a party can win a seat) to win one seat. In Kerala, let’s consider that for BJP, it’s 15% share as in 2016, it won one seat with a 15% vote share. But then if this vote share becomes 17%, it can win 5 seats, if 20% it can win 20 seats, and so on. In a triangular contest with even a 30% vote share, it can form its government in Kerala in the upcoming assembly election!

However, I don’t expect BJP to get that astounding success at the moment. But it’s a fact that in this election, the winner will be decided on how BJP performs. It’s BJP’s vote share that will decide whether UDF wins or LDF wins. According to me, at the moment, expecting that BJP would hurt Congress again, thus LDF, is at an advantage. So, history might be created instead of repeating. The only caveat is the fact that in politics, nothing can be guaranteed.

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