Did BJP really make gains in Kerala? Data shows a more complicated picture

A large part of the national media’s reporting on the results-focused very disproportionately on the performance of the BJP.

BJP
PC: mathrubhumi english

As the dust of the local body elections in Kerala settles and as the state election body corrects its reporting glitches, we are afforded a much clearer picture of the results. A large part of the national media’s reporting on the results-focused very disproportionately on the performance of the BJP, especially in the urban local bodies. Before we dive into how really well they performed let’s look at the overall results.

Of the 1,199 local self-governments that went to polls between December 8 and 14, the Left Democratic Front won 676, the Congress-led United Democratic Front won 405, and the NDA won 21.

In the end, the victory, if any can be claimed, lies with the LDF. Not only did the coalition manage to wade through with the recent allegations and attacks from both the opposition and the center, it also cut through the communal polarisation that was attempted by both the UDF and the BJP.

The LDF has a clear upper hand in the rural local bodies. Of the 941 gram panchayats, 152 block panchayats, and 14 district panchayats, the LDF has a clear majority in 514, 108, and 10 respectively. The UDF could secure 321, 38, and 2, respectively. The BJP is at a distant third with only 19 gram panchayats, 5 more than what it could win the last time.

Among the 6 municipal corporations, the LDF has a majority in 3 and is the leading political bloc in 2 others, while the UDF only secured 1. In the municipalities, even though the results show a neck-to-neck contest, the LDF has a majority in 39 of 87, while the UDF has 37 of them and BJP has 2. The final results show that overall the LDF received 41.6% of the total vote share in the state, UDF 37%, and NDA 14.5%.

These figures are not comprehensive enough, because the state election commission did not earlier specify the pre-poll alliances of hundreds of independent candidates who won with either UDF or LDF support. Since the LDF is more likely to put independents as candidates, several of the local bodies with hung councils and panchayats were inaccurately reported to have UDF or BJP leads.

This was the reason for the results on counting day reports showed UDF leading in 45 municipalities and BJP leading in 24 gram panchayats. The correction led to the tally among municipalities changing quite drastically than originally reported.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where the results were drastically different, UDF swept  with a vote share of 47.5%, followed by LDF with 36.3% and the NDA with 15.6%. According to assembly segment-wise data, the UDF led in 123 of the 140 segments, with LDF and NDA leading in 16 and 1. According to Manorama’s infographic, the current assembly segment-wise data will show us that LDF has a lead in 101 segments, followed by UDF in 38 and NDA in 1.

The local body polls have seen a drastic reversal of fortunes for all political blocs included. While there has been a history of the electorates voting differently in national, state and local elections, trends tell us that in Kerala results of the local body results can be more or less the same. Unless something drastic occurs, like the 1991 elections that coincided with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, prompting a sympathy wave in Kerala and elsewhere.

Going by the data here, one needs to be more discerning about the BJP’s supposed rise and inroads-making in Kerala as claimed by several media outlets. Between April 2019 and December 2020, the NDA has lost 1.22 lakh votes overall and only made a marginal gain of 5 panchayats and 1 municipality.

More telling is the assembly-segment-wise data. A comparison of the 2019 and 2020 data shows us that BJP which came second in at least 7 assembly segments, was only a runner-up in 5, which more or less coincides with its performance in the 2016 assembly elections. Also to be noted is BJP’s performance in the cities, where it sought to make a mark. The overall results show us that it turned out to be a damp squib, despite having gained 84 wards.

So how did it manage to make these gains, if the votes it gained declined marginally? The electoral strategy the BJP employed this time around was to focus on areas where it had a significant base and a chance to transfer votes from the UDF or the LDF.

Take, for instance, the Aluva municipality where the BJP gained 5 out of the 26 wards and emerged as the second-largest party in the council this time around. Even though the number of seats is much better than the 1 seat it won in 2016, the overall vote count for the Aluva assembly segment actually went down from 19,349 in 2016 to 18,746 this December.

The only real gain it made was in Pandalam, but came at the cost of major decline in nearby regions. While the BJP almost doubled its vote share in the Adoor assembly segment, thanks to its performance in the Pandalam municipality, the NDA lost significantly in nearby assembly segments like Thiruvalla and Aranmula. The loss in the latter was upwards of 9,000 votes.

In the end, the victory, if any can be claimed, lies with the LDF. Not only did the coalition manage to wade through with the recent allegations and attacks from both the opposition and the center, it also cut through the communal polarisation that was attempted by both the UDF and the BJP.

The Congress leadership that not only joined the Hindutva bandwagon in the state, but also agreed to a very explicit electoral tie-up that its partner Muslim League made with Jamat-e-Islami and its political arm Welfare Party of India, has received a much-needed jolt.

Without succumbing to the communal narrative from both sides, the Left held up its governance record in the past five years, dealing with multiple natural disasters and healthcare crises, while also keeping communal forces at bay.

Also Read: J&K local body Elections: Its BJP Vs Gupkar Alliance

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