Date & Time: 7th December, 2020 at 08:00 PM IST

Venue: Zoom Online Meeting Platform

Host : Goutham K. A.

Moderator: Prof: K.C. Abraham 

Panellists: Prof. Dr. G. Gopa Kumar, Dr. D. Dhanuraj

Proceedings Report

About the Event: The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) organised a virtual panel discussion on the elections to the Local Self Government (LSG) institutions in Kerala that was scheduled to be held  from the 8th to the 14th of December this year. The panel discussion focused on the changing political trends in the LSG elections, the increased involvement of youth and women candidates in the political sphere, the extent to which the state and national policies affect local body elections, the implications of changing political allegiance, and the emergence of communal politics among others. 

The Panellists: 

  • Prof Dr. G. Gopa Kumar, Former Vice Chancellor of Central University of Kerala; Political Analyst; and Advisor, CPPR, Kochi
  • Prof. K.C. Abraham, Advisor & Academic Director, CPPR, Kochi
  • Dr D. Dhanuraj, Chairman, CPPR, Kochi
  • Goutham K.A., Project Associate, CPPR, Kochi.

Panel Discussion Summary

  1. The topic for the panel discussion was ‘Analysis of Kerala Local Body Elections 2020.’ 
  1. Prof. KC Abraham began the discussion by throwing light on the idea of democracy, the relevance of local self-governing bodies, the issues that might reflect the elections before opening the floor for further discussion on topics such as changing trends in elections, emergence of the right-wing, factors that will affect the local body elections, the potential results and how it reflects on the different political parties, and the influence of state and national issues in local elections. 
  1. Discussing the issues that would be the focus in the LSG elections, Dr. Gopa Kumar explained that though there were many changes in the trends of voting, when it came to Kerala nothing was apolitical. Though development politics would have some weightage in this election, it would be difficult to disregard other political issues. Yet, Kerala politics, according to him, had reached a stage of maturity, where developmental issues would be the focus of local elections to a large extent. Thus, the LSG election might not be a foreteller of the coming Assembly elections in 2021.   
  1. Dr. Dhanuraj pointed out that not only did State politics not play an important role in the election, national issues such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) also did not reflect in the campaigning patterns of the parties this time.
  1. With an increase of independent candidates and civil society organisations actively participating in local politics, it is developmental and infrastructural issues that will be highlighted in this election. 
  1. Talking about the changing trends, Prof. Abraham pointed out how the increasing involvement of women and youth in local politics is a positive and hopeful change for Kerala.
  1. Dr. Dhanuraj explained that this trend could be a reflection of the increasing interest the youth have in politics. The emergence of a charismatic leader like Narendra Modi, and his style of politics are few of the reasons that are inspiring or  provoking young men and women to enter politics to either support or oppose his ideologies.
  1. The issues like the Covid-19 pandemic and the Kerala floods have given an opportunity for youth to be actively involved in political issues, interact with political leaders and understand the local issues of their respective areas. Awareness of global issues due to social media influence could also be looked at as a factor for  the increased participation of youth in politics.
  1. Another important issue discussed was the emergence of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as an alternative to the bipolar nature of elections that has been prevalent in Kerala for many years. Dr. Gopa Kumar said that with this election a change in the bipolar coalition politics will be witnessed in Kerala. 
  1. The significant increase in BJP votes will be a reflection of different factors, and thus an interesting phenomenon to analyse. Dr. Dhanuraj explained that the NDA had fielded candidates in 25 percent more seats this time and that their increase in vote share would be a sign of them improving their foothold in Kerala. Moreover, if they manage to win either a Municipality or a Corporation, it would gain attention even at the national level.
  1. While the increasing communal sentiments in the state is alarming to a great extent, it must be studied closely. The fear of terrorist activities by radical Muslim groups and their potential involvement in international terrorism is an alarming issue that must be focused on, according to Dr. Gopa Kumar. While such patterns have encouraged minority Christians to support the NDA and thus the BJP, other minority muslim groups in Kerala have shown an inclination towards the Left as they are critical of parties like the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in their capability to represent their needs and concerns to the State  at this juncture. 
  2. Dr. Gopa Kumar pointed out that Muslims still sought the support of the Indian National Congress (INC) at the national level to help with their survival politics. This is an interesting phenomenon to study. 
  1. The implications of switching of allegiance by Kerala Congress (Mani) from the United Democratic Front (UDF) to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the elections, and how the changes in voting trends would affect different parties and the coalitions in general.
  2. Dr. Dhanuraj also echoed this point while indicating that the implications of the shift in allegiance by the Kerala Congress would be very interesting to study. He explained that the pattern of  Kerala Congress never making any political gains by supporting the Left alliance will reflect in this election as well. While the traditional Christian vote bank of the Kerala Congress would be reluctant to support the Left, the traditional Left supporters would also find it difficult to support the Kerala Congress. Thus, the election trends, especially in Central Travancore, would be difficult to predict.
  1. What was noticed was the weightage given by people to different policies of the government such as the increase in pension money, relief funds, response during the floods, the international attention gained by the government due to its efficient work during the Covid-19 pandemic and the ration kits given to people during these distressing times, which overshadowed allegations of scams and corruptions brought in by the opposition and the media.
  1. Pointing out the potential decline of the LDF in places like Thrissur and Idukki, Dr. Gopa Kumar explained that communal politics and the search for an alternative to the UDF/LDF politics in the State might adversely affect the Left government in their hope to sustain power. Moreover, the anti-incumbency factor is relevant while trying to understand the polling trends in the State.
  1. The changing trends of the elections will reflect on the leadership of the respective alliances. If the LDF manages to keep power, it will be seen as an acceptance of their leadership, while losing would put the leadership under scrutiny. In the case of the UDF, since it is the party with the least number of young candidates in this election, their loss would result in their leadership being challenged. 
  1. The concluding remarks made by Dr. GopaKumar and Prof. K.C. Abraham reflected on the decline of bipolar coalition politics, the rise of developmental politics and a change in political trends in the State. 

This report was prepared by Rebecca Rose Varghese, Research Intern, Election Studies, CPPR.

Click here to watch the video recording of the discussion

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