The incumbent Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala retained power in the state largely due to the moves it took in the last year-and-a-half to tackle the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), observers said.

Kerala, which has India’s most robust public healthcare system, is now struggling to beat back the second wave of COVID-19. The state is now behind only Maharashtra in the total number of COVID-19 cases.

However, Keralites have been appreciative of the way the LDF government has handled the crisis so far. It was projected as a ‘global model’ in the early days of the pandemic. Today, it also has the lowest death rate due to COVID-19 in India.

It is also the only state in the country that is self-sufficient in oxygen. It achieved all this despite having the highest proportion of elderly citizens (12.6 per cent) with comorbidities.

These achievements have been attributed to the LDF government led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

T P Sreenivasan, a former Indian ambassador, said:

The LDF has won this victory on the strength of its performance during several virus challenges ranging from Nipah to Corona and two successive massive floods. The delivery of welfare during the crisis by the government has diminished the sensational scandal allegations levelled on it by the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

A number of observers were effusive in their praise of incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his leadership.

His daily televised press meets in the early days of the pandemic provided a ‘sense of guardianship’ to the people, leading to the resounding victory, they said.

“There is, of course, COVID-19 and before that, the state was visited by a series of disasters from the deadly Nipah virus to a once-in-a-century deluge. In all these trying times, the calming influence on the stressed-out population was none other than Vijayan,” civil servant-turned-prominent Malayalam writer NS Madhavan said.

Others said the steps taken by the government for various segments of the state’s population were major draws too.

“There was special emphasis on the elderly, pregnant and lactating women and migrant workers. The negativity created by some police excesses and flawed policies have diminished in the crisis management process,” Lekshmy Rajeev, a Thiruvananthapuram-based writer and social activist, said.

The government also released welfare pensions on time and ensured timely delivery of free ration and free kits containing essential edible commodities.

“People preferred the Vijayan government mainly because of the material assistance his government provided to them during the pandemic. Over 100,000 families have received free rations and more than a dozen essential commodities ever since the lockdown was announced last year. This has turned many women voters in his favour,” scientist-turned-prominent Malayalam writer CS Chandrika, said.

Thousands of young men and women across the state had volunteered in the last one year to assist the government in COVID-19 care.

Some 53 per cent of the state’s Muslim electorate said in a survey that welfare measures like kits, free COVID-19 treatment and welfare pensions had brought them close to the LDF. They were UDF supporters earlier. The survey was conducted by the Centre for Public Policy Research.

The same is the feeling of other communities as well.

Faces of the polls

The goodwill earned by the LDF was seen in the margins of victory that its leading candidates received.

K K Shailaja, who was health minister in the previous government, won from her home constituency Mattannur with a record margin of 61,035 votes. This is the largest-ever majority Kerala has seen. In 2016, Shailaja had won from the adjacent Koothuparamba constituency with a margin of 12,291.

Shailaja had received global attention during the early phases of the pandemic for her handling of affairs. Her victory margin was reflective of her popularity due to these actions.

Vijayan won with a majority of 50,123 against his previous margin of 36,905 from the Dharmadam constituency. This can be viewed as a mark of public recognition of his role as a crisis manager during the pandemic.

However, opposition leaders in the state who found loopholes in the anti-pandemic efforts of the government, failed to convince the people if the electoral verdict is an indication.

Noted public health expert S S Lal, who contested from the Kazhakkottam constituency in Thiruvananthapuram, came third, behind LDF and Bharatiya Janata Party candidates. This was despite his pointing out several mistakes on the part of the state government in addressing the crisis.

The same was the case with PR Sarin, another public health expert who contested from the Ottappalam constituency of Palakkad district on a Congress ticket. He came second.

An impressive victory was that of CPI(M) candidate VK Prashanth in Vattiyoorkkavu, Thiruvananthapuram. He had done several relief works for people affected with COVID-19 in his tenure as mayor of the Kerala capital.

Kerala Labour Minister T P Ramakrishnan, who coordinated relief works when Nipah virus cases gripped Kozhikode two years ago, also managed an emphatic victory.

This news article was published in Down to Earth on May 3, 2021. Click here to read

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