Finally, the numbers from the crucial Neyyatinkara bypoll are in and both the Congress and BJP have reason to smile, while the Left parties are reeling from the shock.
Neyyattinkara bypoll was crucial as a Left win there would have reduced the Congress-led UDF government’s majority in the state assembly to just 1 member and affected the stability of the government.
The election was also crucial because of the overly communal atmosphere in Kerala politics just before the polls began.
Both the big Hindu caste associations, the Nair Service Society and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP, representing the OBC Ezhavas) had criticized the Congress led government for being dominated by minorities
Christians and Muslims, who make up around 45% of Kerala’s population, occupy most of the crucial posts in the Congress led government — including those of the chief minister, education minister, finance minister, industry minister and education minister.
More than half of the council of ministers is comprised of either Christians or Muslims.
The criticism was expected to help both the BJP and the CPIM in the results.
However, the CPIM was hit by a controversy during the poll campaign after alleged party supporters killed a renegade leader in a cruel fashion. A party leader also boasted during a televised speech that murders are not a big deal for CPIM, which, he claimed has killed off people after making a list of anti-party activists.
As a result, the CPIM, which was widely seen as having the upper hand as the poll campaign started, ended up losing its vote share in the bypoll, compared to the main election last year.
For example, in the state assembly election held in 2011, the CPIM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) had got 50% of the votes in Neyyattinkara, emerging victorious.
However, a year later, their relative vote share has fallen by about 14.2 percentage points to 35.7% (see chart on relative voteshare of three parties.)
On the other hand, the BJP has made handsome gains. Its voteshare went from a negligible 6.1% in 2011 to 23.6% in the current poll.
The Congress too has suffered, with its vote share slipping from 43.9% in 2011 to 40.7%, but managed to snatch the seat from the Left parties.
However, most of BJP’s gains seems to have come at the expense of the Left front, and only a limited amount from the Congress’ base.
Many political observers in the state believe that the reason was the large number of Christian voters in the constituency. A single community, Nadars, comprise about 60% of the voters in the Neyyattinkara constituency. Most of the Nadars are Christians.
As a result, pointed out a Congress leader, even as Hindu leaders went on the attack against Congress for being “anti-Hindu”, this led to an “equal and opposite reaction” from Christians in the constituency.
“There was a natural consolidation of Christian, particularly Nadar votes, against what they saw as an attack by Hindu groups, led by O Rajagopal (the BJP candidate),” he noted.
Both the LDF and UDF candidates were Christians. This too limited the upside that the CPIM may have gained from the Hindu mobilization attempted by some groups, they pointed out.
As a result, the BJP walked away with more than half of the Hindu votes in Neyyattinkara, a performance that may turn out to be of crucial importance to the fate of the party in Kerala. The BJP is yet to win a single seat in the Kerala state assembly, ever.
“If they can repeat this performance in other constituencies where the proportion of Hindu voters is higher, then perhaps they can look to gain some seats,” admitted the an Communist leader. However, he pointed out that BJP was not able to attract the votes of OBC Ezhavas and the scheduled castes, who continued to support the CPIM.
He admitted that the upper caste Hindu votes were successfully targeted by the BJP at Neyyattinkara.
Meanwhile, the caste association heads who criticized the Congress ahead of the election were busy finding reasons for the Congress’ victory in Neyyattinkara election.
“If we had taken a clear stand, UDF would not have won there. There is no doubt about it. It was not a reflection of governance quality,” said Sukumaran Nair of NSS, whose organization officially recommended a ‘neutral’ stance, even as he personally criticized the government.
SNDP general secretary Vellapally Natesan said the LDF was hit by controversies of its own making and the election was not a true reflection of the current political situation.
“The election happened when LDF was going through bad times.. there was discussion about the political murder.. UDF has got the benefit from all the controversies (that afflicted LDF),” he said after the results were announced.
BJP leaders alleged that the victory belonged to ‘communal forces’ such as the various churches. UDF conducted local level campaigns scaring Christians and others claiming that Hindus were consolidating against them, they said.
“This is a victory for communal forces,” O Rajagopal, the BJP candidate in Neyyattinkara, said.
Many believe that the growth of the BJP will benefit the Congress in Kerala as Congress’s biggest vote base – minorities – can never be poached by the BJP. However the BJP’s growth will snatch away a big chunk of the Communists’ support base in Kerala – the mid and lower caste Hindus, thus splitting Hindu votes exactly in half.