Kerala polls 2021: Rivals Left and Congress see victory
The ruling Left Democratic Front and the Opposition United Democratic Front in Kerala are both confident of walking away with the laurels when the Assembly election votes are counted on Sunday.
While the LDF is banking mainly on its performance on various fronts and the widespread appreciation of its handling of several crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the Congress-led UDF has little doubt that the people have voted for change.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has time and again said he is sure the LDF will get a historic second consecutive term by bucking the 40-year cycle of Kerala alternating between the two main players.
“I have full faith in the people. That’s why I am saying so. We don’t need to talk about this when we can wait for a day,” Vijayan had told his daily media conference on Friday when he was asked about the exit polls giving the LDF another term in office.
LDF convener A. Vijayaraghavan backed the exit polls, some of which gave the alliance more than the 91 seats it had won in 2016. The Kerala Assembly has 140 seats.
“Last time the Kerala Congress (Mani) was with the UDF. This time they are with us. That’s why I feel the exit polls would prove to be correct,” he said.
The most prominent faction of the Kerala Congress led by Jose K. Mani joined the LDF in October 2020 after being sidelined by the UDF. The party is expected to do well in central Kerala districts, including Kottayam and Idukki.
But Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala had no doubt that the UDF was coming to power. “The chief minister is exhibiting false confidence. We will get a clear mandate,” he said, rubbishing the exit polls that have predicted otherwise.
“We won 19 seats in the Lok Sabha polls (2019) by overturning all exit polls,” Chennithala said, referring to its stellar show when the LDF had managed just one seat.
While LDF sources said they were confident of winning at least 85 seats to retain power, UDF insiders were sure of winning 74 seats — three more than simple majority.
A Congress leader, who requested anonymity, attributed the confidence to “booth-level” inputs that suggested that the party was expecting 30 seats in Malabar (north Kerala districts), 32 in central Kerala and 12 in south Kerala.
The second largest UDF partner, the Indian Union Muslim League, a towering presence in the Malabar districts of Malappuram and Kozhikode, is sure of winning 20 of the 27 seats it contested.
Party national general secretary P.K. Kunhalikutty, who quit from the Lok Sabha to contest the Vengara Assembly seat, said his internal survey projected a UDF win. “These (exit poll) surveys are basically to confuse our agents who man counting centres. We have clearly told them to stay confident,” he said.
The BJP, which made its Assembly debut by winning the Nemom seat in 2016, is confident of winning more than five seats. Although its state president K. Surendran has continuously bragged of bagging at least 35 seats, he has since scaled down his prediction.
“From now on, no one can ignore the BJP in Kerala as the NDA will be a major force in the Assembly,” he said on the eve of counting.
Apart from Nemom, Konni and Manjeshwar — Surendran contested from the latter two — the BJP expects to do well in Palakkad where it fielded “Metroman” E. Sreedharan, Vattiyoorkavu and Kazhakootam in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Kozhikode North.
The BJP had deployed central minister Prahlad Joshi and Karnataka deputy chief minister Ashwath Narayan to supervise the campaign that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath pitching for the party in the state that has so far rejected its brand of politics. A failure to impress the central leadership could mean trouble for Surendran and his team.
The LDF has been banking heavily on its performance and the handling of crises such as two successive years of Nipah outbreaks, two years of devastating floods, and the two waves of Covid-19 when it managed to crush the curve in the first and kept the death rate one of the lowest anywhere in the world.
But what has come to haunt the LDF is scams, including a gold smuggling case in which the chief minister’s former secretary M. Sivasankar was arrested. While Sivasankar has since been granted bail, the Opposition had made it a major poll plank.