Goutham K A & Anuj Sharma
The electoral politics in India considerably depends on the mobilization of different social groups, on the basis of caste cleavages, religious orientation, gender differences and even the age groupings. In the elections, political parties work out their strategy based on these parameters to increase their vote share. The caste and religion wise mobilizations are considered to be prime movers in Indian electoral system, but the young voters or the first time voters are a decisive force in any elections. According to Election Commission of India (ECI) the new voters in the 2014 and 2019 LS elections were 2.3 crore voters and 1.5 crore respectively.
So post 2014, a new trend has emerged in the country where major political parties started organized moves to attract the youth with catch slogans and programmes; activated youth wing through special drives not only to ensure their votes but also to groom a credible second generation of leaders. The 2014 LS elections were unique in many respects. When the political pundits mulled it as “Modi Wave”, there was a clear ‘youth wave’ in favour of NDA/BJP especially Narendra Modi who created the rhetoric throughout the campaign. According to the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 2014 LS elections there was historic 68% turnout of the population of the age of 18-25 and more significantly 34.4% of them voted for BJP which helped BJP/NDA to sweep LS elections throughout India. Similarly, the ‘Modi-wave’ led to NDA’s victory in many of the State assembly elections followed. However, Kerala has been able to buck the trend of national politics as the BJP/NDA could not fare well in the 2014 LS polls or the subsequent assembly elections in 2016. But there was a considerable increase in the vote share of the BJP in Kerala.
Kerala has always been unique in its political spectrum where Yo-Yo trend is seen and the pendulum keeps swinging between UDF and LDF keeping BJP on sidelines, despite the party’s spectacular rise post 2014. But what is significant is not the number of seats won by the party in the Assembly polls, but the ground breaking rise in vote share of BJP. Moreover, by occupying a decisive space in the state in electoral politics, the BJP is making inroads into the traditional bipolar political structure of the state. According to the ECI, In 2016 the vote share of BJP has almost doubled. What was more surprising was that the party which had its presence in 2 districts in 2011 elections had spread its presence throughout Kerala in 2016 especially significant influence in four districts- Thiruvananthapuram, Kasargod, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur where they secured more than 19% of votes.
In the last two assembly elections of 2011 and 2016 there has been much volatility in the voting pattern especially in case of young voters. This shift in favour of Modi- led BJP was seen throughout India including Kerala. In 2016 Kerala assembly polls there was a noticeable shift in vote share of different age groups especially the youth to different parties. Post 2014 Modi wave impact marginally influenced both urban and rural voters in favour of BJP led NDA which increased its vote share in Kerala during 2016 polls. Since the ratio of young voters in relation to the total voters is so large that even a marginal shift towards any party means a large number of voters in actual numbers.
The voting behaviour among different age groups showed a lot of volatility and surprisingly the biggest beneficiary of this process was BJP and the biggest loser was the UDF. In 2016 LDF gained around 3.1% more votes among age of 56 and above compared to 2011 assembly elections but its vote-share saw a decline of 6.2% in the age group of below 35. Whereas UDF was the biggest loser of all the three alliances, its vote share increased slightly i.e. 0.8% among the age group of 26-35 but rest in all categories there was a sharp fall. It was BJP led NDA which improved its vote share in all age groups especially in the case of young voters (below 25) who showed a sharp rise of 16.5%.
Table-1- Voting pattern of different age-groups-Kerala (2011-2016 elections)
|Age||Alliances/Major party (Vote share %)|
Table 1: Source: CSDS Survey
In the 2016 assembly elections Kerala had 6.18 lakh new voters between the age group of 18-21. Table 1 gives the voting behaviour of different age-groups during the last two Assembly polls in Kerala (2011 &2016). Interpolating this data in Chart-I (All India pattern of voting), we can see that it was an all India with corresponding upward growth of BJP even in Kerala. Notably, the growth of the BJP/NDA in Kerala was largely at the cost of the Congress/UDF. The anti-incumbency and a series of scams and controversies on the eve of 2016 assembly polls had also substantially contributed to also was a factor in the decline of UDF.
The geographical and demographic features had also influenced the voting pattern in Kerala during 2016 elections. This to a great extent was applicable to all age-groups. For example, in districts like Malappuram where socio religious factors considerably influence the political psyche of the large segments of the voters, such factors largely influenced the voting pattern irrespective of other issues or factors. Similarly, such differences in the behaviour of voters in rural and urban areas was noticed. As per CSDS survey this rural-urban variant clearly reflected in Kerala assembly elections 2016. While the vote share of both LDF and UDF had declined in urban areas by 3.2% and 8% respectively, the LDF vote share showed a normal rise of 0.2% in rural areas as a major decline of 8.2% for UDF. On the other hand, the NDA showed a quantum jump of 6.2% in rural and 12% in urban votes.
This shift of urban and rural electorate towards NDA/BJP has led to a triangular contest in quite a few constituencies where BJP candidates came in second position. Significantly, for the first time in the history of Kerala, a BJP candidate (O Rajagopal) won from Nemom constituency in Trivandrum district.
Implications of BJP’s growth in Kerala
As the BJP alone is in a position to muster 11 to 15 percent of votes in Kerala with its tally of votes over 28000 in as many as 30 constituencies, Kerala has been witnessing tripolar politics in many pockets since 2016. The successive victory of the NDA in 2014 and 2019 LS polls and the sharp decline in the support base of the Congress throughout the country have given impetus to the growth of the BJP in Kerala. Added to this are the disillusionment of the sizable section of the uncommitted voters of Kerala dominated by the Congress led UDF and the CPM led LDF which had alternatively ruled the state for many decades. Such sections naturally seek other political alternatives which to some extent would work to the advantage of the NDA/BJP. But there are major stumbling blocks for the BJP as their is a sizeable population of minorities which account for around 50 percent of the total population in the state and not so favourable to the growth of NDA/BJP.
BJP’s surge was also visible in the 2020 Local Body elections as they came out victorious in the Pandalam Municipality and retained Palakkad Municipality. They also made inroads into the rural areas wrestling 1182 gram panchayats compared to 933 in 2015. Although the vote share grew just around 1.5% reaching upto 15.02%. The Thiruvananthapuram municipality sprung surprise where NDA replaced UDF to gain second spot and UDF which has 21 wards in the outgoing council, ended up with a paltry number of 10.
Another factor that is likely to favour the BJP is the psyche or the line of thinking of young voters. India being a young democracy with an array of young voters participating in every election, the young voters have a crucial role in the outcome of these elections. With the exception of the minorities, a sizable section of young voters prefers the BJP. According to ECI, around 3 lakh voters between the ages of 18-19 have been added in the electoral roll of 2021 elections in Kerala. Their voting pattern may influence the election results in constituencies where the contest is tough or even. The big question is how far the BJP/NDA can capitalize on these new bands of voters? If the BJP can win the support of the bulk of these new voters, they would turn into the best assets of the party in the future elections in Kerala.
Alongside the age groups, other socio-economic changes may also impact the rise of BJP like caste equations approach of prominent Hindu communities such as Nairs, Ezhavas and Schedule castes which by and large remain under the influence of the UDF and the LDF. Though BDJS -representing Ezhava community has aligned with the BJP, they are yet to mobilize the majority of the Ezhavas who remain under the influence of the LDF. Even though they have made considerable inroads into the Nair community vote banks, the dilly-dallying of the Nair Service Society (NSS) and their political strategy of ‘equi-distance’ towards all parties is still a bottleneck in front of BJP. However, certain Christian groups in the Central Travancore have adopted a pro-BJP stance which had partially reflected in 2016 assembly polls. However, these groups are more concerned over their own internal issues than any permanent political commitment to BJP. In a highly politicised Kerala society, a process of social engineering of different communities or castes on a theme like Hindutva or pro-BJP plank appears to be a tedious task. On the other hand, BJP’ s political fortune in Kerala depends much on how the elections and politics impact the two major Fronts (LDF and UDF) and the process of political reorientation at the instance of the frustrated leaders or the major caste/communities that back them. When such developments do happen in other states to the political advantage of the NDA/BJP, how long Kerala can turn its face away from such realities? That is why many leaders of national parties have indicated such reorientation in politics and among their own leaders may happen, if they fail to get impressive mandate in the impending elections.
These issues will be tested in the impending Assembly elections which will answer many crucial questions intertwined with Kerala Politics. Whether the BJP/NDA will improve its performance capitalizing on the likely support of certain age- groups or cutting the traditional votes of the UDF and the LDF? Whether the rise in vote share would translate into more number of seats in assembly or even thinning the margins of victory of LDF and UDF? Can the saffron brigade become a force to reckon with or become the 3rd alternative in Kerala?
Goutham KA is Associate Projects and Anuj Sharma is Research Intern (Election Studies) at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the authors are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.
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