By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Who will win the Final – the mother of all battles for the Kerala Assembly? That is the question uppermost in the minds of Keralites as the State went to the polls on Tuesday amid a big surge in covid cases. The fear is real as all the parties have thrown caution to winds, and failed to adhere to the covid protocol.
Predicting the outcome of an election is a difficult exercise even in the best of times. It is pretty hard to say who will emerge victorious this time around as a bewildering array of factors are at work. True, almost all pre-poll surveys have predicted that the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government will retain power. The LDF, the surveys say, is set to create history by winning a second consecutive term in office. The spectacular victory in the local body elections will be repeated in the assembly polls, too, predict the LDF leaders.
But the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) would have us believe that the edge the LDF enjoyed in the beginning has vanished into thin air. The UDF has not only managed to catch up with the LDF but has forged ahead in the last lap of the high-octane, month-long campaign in which no quarters were asked for and none given. That, of course, is tall talk aimed at boosting the morale of the UDF cadres. But there is no denying the ground reality: The UDF has succeeded in covering a lot of ground. The race is well and truly tighter.
The latest estimates say the LDF has around 48 sure seats as against the UDF’s tally of 42. The race is neck and neck in the remaining 50 seats. The front which will get a majority of these seats will rule Kerala for the next five years. LDF leaders say the front has a clear edge in districts like Kannur, Kozhikode, Thrissur and Palakkad, Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha. UDF leaders claims the front is ahead in Malappuram, Ernakulam and Kottayam. They also dispute the LDF’s claim of an edge in Kollam, Kozhikode, Thrissur and Palakkad.
For instance, they say that, in 2016, LDF won all the 11 seats in Kollam district. This time, there is a neck and neck race in at least 6 seats. The UDF, they point out, will at least four seats in the district where they drew a blank in 2016. The Government’s deal with a US-based firm on deep-sea fishing has incurred the wrath of the fishermen’s community, the UDF source s contend. And this anger against the Government will cost them a number of seats in coastal districts like Kollam, Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha.
Likewise, in Thrissur, where the LDF bagged 12 out of the 13 seats in 2016, the picture is different this time. A grim battle for supremacy is on in at least eight seats. And the UDF will win at least four seats, their leaders claim. But LDF leaders scoff at the boast and are confident of winning at least 9 seats. The LDF leaders say even in Ernakulam, the LDF would spring an ugly surprise on the UDF by winning at least five to six seats. In the 2016 poll, the LDF won 5 and the UDF nine.
The Kerala Capital of Thiruvananthapuram is witnessed a battle royale. The most prestigious battle was fought in Nemom, the lone seat the BJP held in the outgoing assembly. The race is tight and a prediction is difficult. BJP candidate O Rajagopal had won a big slice of Congress votes in 2016. But, as the Congress has fielded a powerful candidate, K. Muraleedharan, the Congress votes which went to the BJP last time would return this time. In the bargain, LDF candidate V Shivankutty would emerge the winner. There are two other seats where the BJP fancies its chances in the district. These afre: Kazhakoottam and Thiruvananthapuram central.
As for central Kerala, which decides the winner, the entry of Kerala Congress(M) led by Jose K Mani would stand the LDF in good stead. Jose proved his worth by winning a good number of seats in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts comprising central Kerala for the LDF in the local body polls. That performance will be repeated in the assembly elections, too, predict LDF and KC(M) leaders. UDF camp, however, say assembly elections is a different ball game, and that Jose would get a rude jolt this time around.
In Malabar region, which has 60 seats, the LDF won 37 seats in 2016 while the UDF bagged 23. But the scenario has undergone a sea-change, claim UDF leaders. They say, except in Kannur, in all other Malabar region districts, the LDF is in for a rude shock. Their assessment is that UDF will increase its tally of 23 in 2016 to at least 29. LDF poll managers, pooh-pooh the claim.
Meanwhile, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) is hoping to emerge as a third front. The NDA is confident of increasing its vote share from the 15 per cent mark and representation in the State Assembly. The Front says this time around, the NDA will win at least 5 seats. The seats it is hoping to bag are: Nemom, Palakkad, Manjeswaram, Kazhakootam and Thiruvananthapuram Central. In a dozen constituencies, the NDA may come second. In at least 25 constituencies, the winner will be decided by the number of votes BJP candidates will manage to poll. Nemom, Palakkad and Manjeswaram attracted national attention. Two rounds of campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president JP Nadda has boosted the morale of the BJP cadres
The party is sure of winning Manjeswaram where BJP state chief K. Surendran is in the fray. Palakkad, from where Metroman E. Sreedharan is contesting may also go to BJP although Congress candidate Shafi Parambil is giving the Metroman a tough fight. The BJP is extremely confident of retaining Nemom. But the presence of a powerful UDF candidate, K. Muraleedharan and the aggressive campaign by LDF candidate Shivan kutty has made the contest unpredictable. It could well be a photo finish.
Another seat the BJP is hopeful of winning is Kazhakoottam where firebrand leader Sobha Surendran is trying her luck. Sobha secured the seat at the last minute and because of the direct intervention of the Prime Minister himself. Thiruvananthapuram central may spring a pleasant surprise for the BJP where film star Krishnakumar is a force to reckon with. But the BJP’s hopes of winning 30 odd seats is nothing but tall talk. LDF sources however, say the BJP’s account in Nemom will be closed. And the party may end up drawing a blank.
The LDF camp is pretty sure that the so-called ‘late surge’ of the Opposition is not going to stop the Front’s inexorable march towards the winning post, and date with history. The LDF is expected to buck the Kerala trend of alternate rule by LDF and UDF every five years.
The Opposition is pinning its hopes on the slew of ‘scams’ against the Government like the gold smuggling and dollar smuggling cases, the deep-sea fishing deal with a US-based firm, the PSC rank holders agitation and the Sabarimala issue. LDF leaders however, claim that the Government’s achievements on the development front and welfare measures will frustrate the Opposition’s hopes of wresting power. The Pinarayi factor is our trump card, the Left leaders point out. The Chief Minister hogged the top ratings in all surveys. The Government’s efficient handling of the covid-19 menace came in for high praise not only from within the country but also at the international level. The biggest achievement of the Government is its success in ensuring that nobody starved during the covid period. The health care system, especially the public health care system rose to the occasion and people got free treatment. The appreciation of the people will translate itself into votes for the LDF, the front leaders are sure. The welfare measures, including increased pension and free food kit which sustained people through a most difficult period will also benefit the LDF in a big way on the polling day.
Star speakers for the LDF were CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, politburo members Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and CPI general secretary D. Raja. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda spearheaded the NDA campaign, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi led the UDF campaign.
In conclusion, it can be said that the LDF may win around 80-85 seats and the UDF 50-55. The NDA expects to increase its tally by a seat or two. (IPA Service)