Civic polls: BJP, Left gain in Kerala; huge setback for Congress
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made major gains in Kerala civic polls for the first time in its history.
The elections also threw up hung houses in several cities, towns and villages with the strong BJP presence splitting the seats three-way unlike in the bipolar contest in assembly elections fought mainly between the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
The opposition LDF led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) won seven of the 14 district councils leaving six to the Congress and its allies while Kasaragod district gave a split verdict when the BJP won two seats against the UDF’s eight and LDF’s seven.
Among the 87 municipal councils, LDF and the UDF shared 25 each and others remain “hung” with strong BJP presence besides a few independents.
Giving a major shock to the domineering fronts, the BJP cornered 34 of the 100 seats in the state capital’s city corporation leaving the council hung with the LDF short of nine seats for a simple majority and pushing the UDF to a distant third with just 21 seats.
Of the other five city corporations, the UDF won Kochi and the LDF Kollam and Kozhikode while nobody has a majority in Thrissur and Kannur, where a Congress worker elected as an independent against the official candidate has offered support to the UDF to rule.
The UDF has 27 seats in the council against the LDF’s 26 and in the 55-member Kannur corporation while the LDF has 23 seats in Thrissur against the UDF’s 21, BJP’s six and five independents.
Of the 941 village councils, LDF has won 419 leaving 254 to UDF, three to BJP and seven to local coalitions of various groups. Nobody has a majority in others for the moment.
In the industrial town of Kizhakkambalam, Twenty20, a group promoted by a local business house, swept all the 19 seats in the local council.
The LDF has also won 83 of the 152 block-level councils leaving 57 to the UDF.
The elections also saw minority Muslim votes gravitating toward the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) aggressively campaigning against the BJP.
The shift of Muslim votes dealt a heavy blow to the ruling Congress party-led coalition headed by an overconfident Chief Minister Oommen Chandy who has all along been maintaining that it would be a referendum on his four-and-half-year rule.
Chandy, who had described the local elections as a semifinal before the state goes to the general elections less than six months later, said he had expected a better outcome and the people’s verdict warranted improved governance.
“We would study the verdict and make necessary changes in our policies and programs. It’s indeed a warning, and we take it that way,” Chandy told reporters. “But there’s no wave seen this time like we won in 2010 with even bigger margin”.
He described the BJP’s performance and “temporary phenomenon” and the “politics of hatred” would not succeed in Kerala.
“See, they had won more votes in parliamentary elections (when the BJP established a lead in 63 of the 100 corporation segments),” he said.
Other Congress leaders described it as a “shock treatment” for an intense factional feud and “friendly contests” among the partners in many places.
“The UDF was overconfident. We had won all the elections since It’s a temporary setback for us which we would overcome in the next elections,” said senior leader AK Antony.
Opposition Leader VS Achuthanandan, 92, who led the LDF’s campaign across the state, said the verdict was a slap in the face for Finance Minister KM Mani, facing bribe charges, and “his protector” Chandy.
“This is a verdict against corruption and communalism,” said his deputy Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. “It’s a verdict against Chandy as chief minister”.
Mani said the UDF had won 20 of the 26 seats in his Pala Municipality, and 17 of them went into his Kerala Congress (M) kitty.
The UDF had cornered 46 percent of the votes as against LDF’s 42 and BJP’s 6.2 percent in the 2010 civic polls while the LDF garnered 45.32 percent votes as against UDF’s 40.52 and BJP’s 5.68 percent when the Congress splinter group led by the late K Karunakaran walked away with 4.67 percent of the popular votes.
The UDF had won close to 70 percent of the three-tier local governments and city councils in 2010.