Thiruvananthapuram, May 11: The Opposition Left Democratic Front today swept back to power in Kerala with its best-ever tally, matching exit poll predictions and humbling the Congress-led ruling front in an almost copycat reversal of the 2001 verdict.
The CPM-led combine won 98 of the 140 seats, 58 more than last time, a turnaround that left the United Democratic Front gasping with 42, down 57.
But it was the Indian Union Muslim League, a key pressure group in a state where one in every four persons is a Muslim, which suffered the biggest shock.
The UDF ally, which has invariably wangled plum portfolios, saw three party stalwarts bite the dust in Malappuram, so long seen as an impregnable League fortress.
The BJP drew a blank.
Chief minister Oommen Chandy (in picture) won from home turf Puthupally for the ninth time, but seven of his cabinet colleagues lost as voters rejected the opportunistic poll-eve patch-up between the Congress and the breakaway Democratic Indira Congress of K. Karunakaran.
Of the 18 candidates Karunakaran fielded, 17 lost, among them the outfit’s state chief and his son K. Muraleedharan, and former irrigation minister T.M. Jacob. Karunakaran said his party was routed because of sabotage “by Congressmen”.
But more than the UDF’s debacle, the big surprise was the defeat of the League stalwarts ' former industry minister P.K. Kunhalikutty, public works minister M.K. Muneer and education minister E.T. Mohammed Basheer ' in Malappuram.
Kunhalikutty put up a brave front, saying he and the others chose to contest in risky seats. “Now we realise it’s been a bad tactic,” said the man who came under a sex and sleaze cloud, which possibly told on his party’s fortunes.
Analysts read the League’s setback as a warning to the Congress for its foreign policies.
Although Sonia Gandhi had cautioned the Left against communalising foreign policy issues, Left leaders, from CPM general secretary Prakash Karat to local leaders, had attacked the Congress for India’s “cosying up” to the US, the vote against Iran and “the US invasion of Iraq”.
The catch line the Left spun was the Congress and the League were supping with imperialists and working against the larger interests of Islam.
The LDF also gained from the support it got from the Jama’at-e-Islami, which was banned thrice under the Congress regime for inciting communal clashes.