While the Left Front was expected to lose Hindu votes due to the Sabarimala issue, a closer look at voting numbers from Kerala reveals that Sabarimala hit both LDF and UDF, but the UDF was able to sail through with increased support from minorities.
Even as Hindu voters shifted their votes to the BJP to protest against Sabarimala controversy, minorities consolidated behind the Congress-led UDF, wounding the Left Front.
The numbers also prove wrong Congress’ claim that Hindu voters endorsed its take-no-action stand in Sabarimala. While the BJP had carried out massive street protests, the Congress had taken a more relaxed, press-conference oriented approach.
Coming to the numbers: Out of the 20 constituencies in Kerala, LDF lost 10% or more of its relative vote share in 8.
Out of these — except for the Alathur constituency, which is reserved for scheduled caste candidates — the other seven constituencies clearly betray a pattern: If it’s a constituency with a substantial minority population, LDF’s lost votes shifted to the UDF, and if it is a constituency where Hindu voters dominate, LDF’s lost votes moved to the BJP.
Even if one assumes that LDF’s heavy losses in minority dominated seats was on account of Hindu voters shifting loyalties, that still doesn’t explain why Hindu voters in these constituencies would prefer the Congress over the BJP, while Hindu ‘protest’ voters in other constituencies preferred the BJP.
This suggests that the LDF’s loss was not just a fallout of Hindu reaction on Sabarimala, but also the result of a shift in minority votes in favor of the UDF and away from the Left.
Take the case of Idukki, which has a dominant Christian population. It ranked 3rd in terms of LDF’s vote erosion. LDF lost a massive 13.8% vote share in this hilly constituency, second only to Thrissur and Wayanad — another hilly constituency also dominated by minority voters.
Out of the 13.8% lost by the LDF, only 2.1% came to the BJP, while a massive 11.7% shifted to the Congress.
Similarly, in the Muslim-dominated Ponnani constituency, the LDF lost 9.6% relative vote share, out of which only 2.2% moved to the NDA, while the 7.4% moved to the UDF.
Ernakulam, a constituency where Hindu voters are in minority, the swing in favor of the Congress was three times that in favor of the BJP.
On the other side is Thrissur, where the LDF lost a 15% vote share.
Here, the NDA increased its vote share by 16.33%. In other words, not only did the NDA take the disillusioned Left Front voters, it also got 1.4% of Congress voters to shift as well.
SABARIMALA DID NOT BENEFIT CONGRESS
In addition to cases like Thrissur, there are other examples to show that Congress did not benefit much from the Sabarimala controversy.
The three constituencies closest to Sabarimala — Pathanathitta, Kottayam and Alleppey — saw massive gains for the NDA.
What is more interesting is that, in these constituencies, the UDF lost more vote share — ranging from 7% to 8% — than the LDF, which lost 4% to 5%. The NDA made big gains here, but largely at the expense of the Congress.
Interestingly, the Congress lost 7.7% relative vote share in Kottayam despite the place being home to one of the strongest Catholic vote base in the state. Part of the reason may be that the NDA managed to overcome the religious divide by fielding a Syrian Christian candidate, PC Thomas.
These were the only three constituencies where the UDF also saw a massive erosion in its vote share.
WHY MINORITY CONSOLIDATION?
For LDF, the numbers raise several uncomfortable questions.
First, they indicate that the inroads that the Left front was able to create in minority communities by standing up to the RSS in recent years may be lost.
While no clear explanation exists as to why this may be the case, part of it may have to do with the Sabarimala issue, and part with Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to mobilize support for the Congress in Kerala.
While the Sabarimala issue doesn’t affect minorities directly, these communities are wary of government meddling in religious affairs, and the move to send in activists into the temple may have caused them to rethink their support for the LDF.
The second major reason could be a desire to lend support to the Congress Party, which is seen as the most viable opponent to the BJP at the center. In contrast, the Left Front is seen as a local outfit, with hardly any clout at the center — an image that was widely reinforced by the Congress’ campaign in the state.