High voter turnout raises questions in Kerala
Record polling in Kerala has raised more questions than answers, as all three alliances are trying to figure out what the high voter turnout meant and which way the state would go.
The highest polling in three decades has flummoxed political leaders across the spectrum with everyone claiming a pie but no one ready to hazard a guess on how this would play out when counting takes place on May 23.
Despite long queues throughout the day, many booths saw hundreds of voters lining up even after the 6pm deadline on Tuesday.
Due to the slow voting, blamed on the introduction of VVPATs, and multiple instances of EVM malfunctioning, the Election Commission had allowed anyone reaching the booths before 6pm to vote.
Kannur in the north recorded the highest rate of polling at 83.05 per cent while Thiruvananthapuram was the lowest at 73.45 per cent. But even then it was way more than the 68 per cent the state capital polled in 2014.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan caused a flutter by refusing to comment when reporters sought his opinion about the high turnout. His only response was an angry “Maari nilkku angottu (Keep away)” before getting into his car.
This led to speculation in political circles that perhaps the chief minister had gauged how the state voted.
But no party was willing to take a risk by making a call.
State Congress spokesperson Pandalam Sudhakaran said it was difficult to read the phenomenon though the party-led United Democratic Front (UDF) would benefit from the high rate. “We have definitely gained a lot of votes, as the people have risen against the national and state governments,” said Sudhakaran.
But he was not willing to guess the kind of impact this would have.
The UDF had won 12 of the 20 seats in the state in 2014 leaving eight to the CPM-led Left Democratic Front.
The last time Kerala witnessed such high turnouts was in the post-Emergency elections in 1977 and 1989. On both occasions the state went with the Congress.
“I don’t think BJP will be able to win a single seat even this time as such a high voter turnout could be an indication of the anger against the Centre’s communal policies,” said the Congress’s Sudhakaran.
But the fact remains that the BJP forced a triangular fight in Thiruvananthapuram where Congress’s incumbent MP, Shashi Tharoor, is seeking a third consecutive term, and in Pathanamthitta, where the Sabarimala temple is situated.
Sudhakaran admitted that Sabarimala was an electoral issue but did not want to take a guess about its impact.
The Pinarayi government’s implementation of the September 28 Supreme Court judgment lifting all age barriers on women’s entry to the temple had led to a massive outcry in the state. Expectedly, the BJP unleashed protests aimed at cashing in on the religious sentiment.
State BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai had no doubt that Sabarimala would save his party this time. “We are going to win several seats,” he said while talking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.
But Congress MLA V.D. Satheesan was equally sure about who would be the beneficiary of the record turnout.
“Overwhelming majority of Kerala’s voters are against another term for (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi. A huge majority of Hindus have voted in favour of UDF,” he told a Malayalam news channel.
He saw the entry of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who is contesting from Wayanad (as also from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh), as the “game changer” that would help the party.
“His presence had energised the whole of Kerala and the results would be clear on May 23,” said Satheesan.
P. Rajeev of the CPM, who fought from Ernakulam, saw the high voter turnout as a reaction to the “communal politics” of both the UDF and BJP.
“This vote is against communal politics, as the people have understood the undercurrents of communal politics played by UDF and BJP,” said Rajeev, who expected a “windfall” for the LDF.
His party colleague A. Pradeep Kumar, who contested from Kozhikode, was also upbeat about their prospects. “High polling rate will help only the LDF,” he predicted.
Pradeep Kumar though didn’t think the Sabarimala issue played a role in the high turnout. Rather, he suggested, the people came out in large numbers as they were fed up with communal politics and wanted to defeat Modi. “It’s a shame that both the UDF and BJP used Sabarimala. However, the people will defeat them for playing communal politics,” said Kumar.