Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s CPM-led Left Democratic Front swept the three-level local body polls, splashing red across areas which have long been considered bastions of Congress-led United Democratic Front.
The ruling front captured 5 out of the total 6 corporations, 10 out of 14 district panchayats, 108 out of 150 block panchayats and 514 out of a total of 941 gram panchayats. Only in the municipalities did UDF score over the ruling front, claiming 45 of the total 86 municipalities.
Another notable feature of the elections is the foray BJP made in rural and semi-urban areas, where the party won a number of seats in various bodies, but not large enough to take control of the administration. The saffron party NDA alliance, however, won control of 22 gram panchayats and two municipalities.
Addressing a press meet, a triumphant-looking Pinarayi Vijayan asserted that the results were the people’s answer to the efforts of the opposition parties and specifically the central agencies to destabilise the LDF government. He claimed that the large number of allegations of corruption and scams levelled against his government have been rejected by the people.
Vijayan had, in fact, claimed on the day of the last leg of polling that the day of counting will provide the answer to the campaigns of the central agencies, whose main objective, according to him, was to scuttle the state government’s developmental initiatives.
In terms of real politics, what made the big difference was the switching of sides by the Kerala Congress (M) faction, led by Jose K Mani, which crossed over the LDF following a clash with a rival faction of the same party, leading to its expulsion from the UDF.
The development ensured that the ruling front’s vote bank was fortified with the addition of the dominant Christian community of central Travancore area, which had traditionally been with the Congress and the UDF. As was widely expected, the realignment changed the contours of central Kerala politics.
This meant that the home turf of leaders such as former chief minister Oommen Chandy and Jose K Mani’s late father has for the first time landed up in LDF hands and the UDF suffered humiliating defeats in its traditional bastions of Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Idukki.
In the Christian-dominated Kottayam, the equation has become just the opposite of what it was in the 2015 elections. While the LDF had won only 21 panchayats, compared to 48 of UDF in 2015, this election has seen LDF garnering 40, while UDF got reduced to 21. Panchayats that had never allowed the leftists have for the first time handed over their administration to the LDF this time.
On the other hand, the Joseph group of the Kerala Congress, which was retained by the UDF as the original faction, got routed in its strongholds. Faction leader P J Joseph saw his candidates lose to the Jose faction even in his home turf.
In the keenly-watched Thiruvananthapuram corporation, where the BJP had mounted a serious challenge to the LDF-held administration, the saffron party improved its tally, but fell short of the magic number. State BJP chief K Surendran alleged that the UDF and the LDF had a clandestine understanding against his party in Thiruvananthapuram, which robbed it of the first opportunity to run the state capital’s civic body.