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General Elections 2014: Minority consolidation to help Congress retain Kerala seats

The vote share of the Congress Party-led United Democratic Front will fall by 3% in the upcoming general elections 2014 in Kerala, while that of the Left Democratic Front will remain the same compared to 2009 – according to an opinion poll by Asianet News network and research firm C Fore.

The Bhartiya Janata Party will improve its vote share in Kerala back to 11% from 6.4% in the 2009 general elections, but will still fail to get a single seat in the state, the survey predicted.vote-ezhava-christian-muslim-kerala

The BJP’s vote share had increased steadily in Kerala — home to the highest number of RSS branches — through the late 80s all the way up to about 11% in 2004.

According to the survey, a strong consolidation of christian and muslim votes in favor of the Congress’ UDF alliance, which also includes the Indian Union Muslim League, will help the Congress deflect the anti-incumbency factor that was expected to dent its prospects.

As a result, UDF’s tally is likely to fall to on 11 seats from 16 seats while the LDF’s tally is likely to increase only to 9 seats from 4 seats in 2009.

Chistian and Muslim voters are voting for the Congress alliance in appreciation of the strong representation that the communities have got in the current UDF government in the state, commentators said while analyzing the results. The two communities make up around 50% of the state’s population.

Congress has had a Christian chief minister, Oommen Chandy, since coming to power in the state in 2011 and also has also given prominent positions to several Kerala Christian community members at the center including AK Antony, PC Chacko, PJ Kurien, PJ Thomas and KV Thomas. AK Antony is widely seen as a prime ministerial candidate if the Congress comes back to power.

However, it must be remembered that the UDF typically gets the overwhelming support of the rich Syrian Christian communities, from whom all the above members are drawn and who make up about 15% of the state’ population. The so-called Latin Christians, who make up a tiny percentage and have other backward classes reservation, is largely like other communities – a mix of UDF and LDF voters.

According to an exit survey conducted in 2011 after the state assembly elections, Syrian Christians turned out to be the most solid vote bank of any party, with 75% of them voting for the UDF alliance. Only 50% of the Muslims had voted for the UDF, according to the survey.

The latest survey by Asianet did not distinguish between Syrian Christians and Latin Christians. According to it, the Christians as a whole continue to support the UDF alliance, which will get 65% of the community’s votes in the coming elections. All except one constituency in middle Kerala — where the Christian community is higher in number — will be swept by the UDF alliance, the survey found.

Interestingly, the Narendra Modi factor seems to have created a mobilization among the Muslims in the state in favor of the UDF as well. 62% of them will vote for the UDF in the coming elections, according to the survey, while only 36% will vote for the LDF. The LDF typically gets above 40% of the community’s votes.

Another relative swing is in the upper caste Hindu votes. The Nair community, which comprises about 11% of the state’s population, will seen nearly a fifth (19%) of its vote go to the BJP, the survey revealed. 43% support the UDF and 33% support the LDF, it revealed. The CPIM, which leads the LDF, is headed by an upper caste Hindu nationally, though it is headed by Ezhavas — the biggest caste in Kerala — at the state level.

Ezhavas, 57% of whom voted for the LDF in the 2011 state elections according to the earlier Asianet survey, will continue to favor the LDF to a large extent, the new survey found. However, this time, only 51% of them will vote for the LDF.

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi has been trying to woo the Ezhavas, who comprise 22% of the population, to the party.

Though the UDF gets about 17% of its votes from Ezhavas, only 3 out of the 72 UDF legislators (4%) in the Kerala Assembly belong to the community. Nearly all the Ezhava MLAs, as a result, sit on the LDF benches, though only about 55-60% of Ezhavas vote for the party.

TABLE – EXPECTED VOTE SHARE% UPCOMING GENERAL ELECTIONS 2014

CommunityUDFLDFBJPOTHERS
DALIT (15%)326341
EZHAVA (21%)415171
MUSLIM (29%)623602
CHRISTIAN (19%)652852
NAIR (11%)4733191

SOURCE: ASIANET C FORE SURVEY, FEB 2014

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi may be disappointed looking at the results of the opinion poll — he seems to have failed to make any inroads into the Ezhava community for the BJP. Modi, who is being touted as a fellow backward caste member to attract Ezhavas, had delivered a speech at Sivagiri Mutt, established by Ezhavas’ spiritual leader Sree Narayana Guru.

Only 7% of Ezhavas, however, will vote for the BJP, according to the survey, largely unchanged from earlier figures.

Modi had also addressed a union of the Pulayas, who are classified as being at the bottom of the caste pyramid in the traditional Brahmanical system. However, among Dalits too, BJP will get only 4% of the votes.

Most Dalits, or 63%, will vote for the LDF, while 32% will vote for the UDF.

Unlike in the rest of India, where the Congress Party is a traditional alliance of the upper castes and the Dalits, in Kerala, the Dalits, the Latin Christians, backward caste Muslims and Ezhavas have formed the support base for the Left parties till recently, while the Congress has always drawn its support from the well-to-do sections — upper caste Hindus, upper-caste Christians (Syrian Christians) and wealthy Muslims.

However, due to increasing communal polarization in Indian politics and the Gulf boom which raised income levels in the Muslim community in Kerala, a large section of young Muslim voters have shifted their loyalties to the Indian Union Muslim League, which is the second biggest constituent of the UDF. In the era of identity politics, the IUML is seen as a strong protector of the community’s interests, just like the Kerala Congress, another UDF constituent, was seen as a strong protector of the Syrian Christian interests such as protecting the privileges of Catholic educational institutions, preventing reclamation of forest land from settlers and plantation owners.

With the leadership of the Kerala unit of the Congress Party now passing on to the hands of the Christians, the role of the Kerala Congress has diminished of late, while the upper caste Hindus, who used to dominate the Congress Party at the state level, have now started fancying the BJP much more.

The survey estimated the share of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is yet to announce its candidates and has a strong following in urban areas and among educated Muslims, at less than 2%.

It must, however, be remembered it is early days yet and the numbers are likely to change later.

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