With over one lakh candidates
nominated to Kerala's three-tier local body polls this month, the
stage is set for a highly-charged campaign in politically
polarized Kerala. At stake is not just the dominant control of
over 21,000 seats in some 1,200 local bodies; rather the polls
could be a real-time, and probably the last, opportunity to
measure the popular mood in the run-up to the 2011 assembly
While the intensity of anti-incumbency against the ruling Left
Democratic Front (LDF), led by the Communist Party of
India-Marxist (CPI-M), would be on test, the Congress-led United
Democratic Front (UDF) can assess if the gains of 2009 Lok Sabha
election still stand.
Predicting the electorate's mood from these polls could be a
psephological nightmare considering that local bodies are too
disjointed and segregated to endow a consolidated state-wide
trend. Further, Kerala's political landscape and the electorate's
collective behaviour have altered in recent years.
Despite the vertical polarization between two fronts, coalition
politics and voting patterns in Kerala have distinct
First, Kerala's electorate has changed the ruling front every
quadrennial, with the intensity of anti-incumbency reflecting in
the winning margin.
Second, irrespective of the prevalent wave, the Leftists have
consistently maintained dominance over local bodies, thanks to its
cadre footprint which has a direct influence over local issues.
Third, the Congress-led UDF has traditionally maintained an upper
hand over Lok Sabha seats, often grabbing more than half.
It was the 2004 general election that changed the scene when the
LDF gained a near total win in a Lok Sabha battle. The public
disapproval of the chronic infighting within the Congress caused
its drubbing. A similar fate befell the LDF in 2009.
As a natural continuation of the trend, many expect the LDF to be
routed in 2011, the way the UDF in 2006 lost over 75 percent
seats. In that case, it is restoration of the long-held trend of
quadrennial change and cyclic impact of anti-incumbency, which no
front had transcended since the 1980s. How then will the local
body polls impact the 2011 verdict?
Not many pollsters are ready to affirm that the October polls
could throw up surprises, implying that the LDF might sustain its
control over nearly three-fourth of the local bodies. Even a sharp
anti-incumbency wave could at best hit this margin by a 10-20
percent but not seriously denting the Left's dominance.
A decisive win in the local bodies could be a morale booster, but
not necessarily potent enough to alter the electoral traits.
However, one cannot affirm that even this pattern is static. Just
like the 2004 Lok Sabha election caused an unprecedented rout of
the Congress, 2011 might also throw up surprises, if not dramatic.
Kerala's political scene is witnessing fresh political
realignments hitherto unseen in its coalition politics. The
October polls are thus a testing ground for the new political
A massive sweep will reinvigorate the Left camp, especially the
CPI-M, which is undergoing a correction exercise to undo the
wrongs of the last five years when factionalism vertically split
an otherwise disciplined party.
In a manner unseen in the party's recent history, a cross-section
of the party's state secretariat deplored the ethical degradation
of the leadership and regretted being sucked into the faction
The Congress is bequeathed by its innate problem - factional
politics, so much so that candidate nominations to the local
bodies turned chaotic. In many constituencies, UDF candidates are
more than one, making it difficult to discern the official
candidate from the rebel.
The K. Muraleedharan factor has come back to haunt the Congress
though he could be supporting the UDF this time. Muraleedharan has
proved his political might by projecting his support base among
Congressmen, many of who are contesting as rebels or backing
official UDF nominees.
By doing so, Muraleedharan seems to drive home a point - he has
replaced his father, K. Karunakaran, as a leader who could garner
a committed cadre despite not being in any party.
These factors notwithstanding, the UDF nurtures hopes of a grand
comeback in 2011 even if the local bodies mandate is not
favourable. The Front believes a return of upper caste and Muslim
votes, along with the Church's support, will carry it through.
Such assessments are not without merit considering the Church's
open war against the CPI-M. While PDP leader Abdul Nasser Madani's
arrest in a terror case might prove costly for the CPI-M, which
sought his support in the 2009 general election, the re-emergence
of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) as a credible political
platform cannot be music to the CPI-M, which is facing rebellion
from the niche group of Muslim Leftists.
Further, the Congress dialogue with the Nair Service Society (NSS),
which dominates the sentiments of the upper-caste Nair community,
could help the UDF cross the margins in 2011.
(The writer is
a Delhi-based political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)