Ever since the cobbling together of United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala almost five decades ago (formed during a byelection in Nilambur in 1970 in the lone Christian pocket in Muslim-majority Malappuram), the front has become the political platform for minority communities that amount to 45% of the electorate.
The political experiment helped shape UDF’s rainbow political base, bringing together the bulk of Muslims mostly concentrated in Malabar (26.6% as per 2011 census) and Christians based in central Kerala (18.4%) and aligning them with the Congress’ traditional anti-Marxist vote base spread across various communities. This political experiment was key to Kerala’s four-decade-old alternating LDF and UDF regimes.
The historic mandate secured by LDF for a second term was possible by the inroads the front was able to make into the minority communities- both Muslim and Christian- which UDF had considered as its electoral, fixed deposits.

Among the 66 assembly constituencies where Muslim votes play a decisive role in determining the winner, LDF was able to win over 40 seats. Even IUML took a beating with its tally coming down to 15 from the 18 seats it won in 2016. Of the 23 seats won by UDF where Muslim votes are decisive, 19 are in Malabar; reflecting the fact that Muslims have rallied behind LDF especially in central and south Kerala, where they had to choose between Congress and LDF.

LDF seems to have sensed minorities warming up to it and was enthusiastic in supporting the mass agitations against CAA/NRC. LDF had put out separate full-page advertisements exclusively in Muslim-management run newspapers on the polling day on April 6 which loudly proclaimed that LDF will not implement CAA/NRC and that there won’t be any detention camps in state.
The messaging given by Pinarayi Vijayan was consistent all through the election campaign: LDF alone had the political will and courage to take on right-wing communal forces and it alone can protect minorities from the onslaught of Sangh Parivar forces. It is reflected in the strategic voting carried out by the community for LDF in constituencies like Nemom and Kazhakkoottam to stop BJP wins.
Going by the results, LDF seems to have bettered its share of 34% Muslim vote in 2016 as per surveys conducted by CSDS. Among major Muslim organizations, AP Sunni faction – headed by Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musaliyar – had publically indicated its support for LDF and Welfare Party of India had supported UDF in most constituencies except the 19 seats in which it contested. But, despite its support UDF was unable to win constituencies like Thiruvambady and Kuttiady where Welfare Party had clout.

Also, Vijayan was able to create an appeal transcending party or politics through clever perception management on the strength of welfare schemes and free kits. He was able to provide a sense of reassurance for steering the state through numerous crises, including the pandemic.

Reflecting this, the survey conducted by Centre for Public Policy Research had found that 53% Muslims said that welfare measures like food kits, free Covid treatment, welfare pensions will impact polls.

Also LDF’s big win cannot be possible without the support of the church, especially in central Kerala. The consolidation of Christian votes in favour of LDF did not shape up overnight. The church was agitated for some time with UDF for the prominence it gave to IUML.

According to a senior clergy of KCBC, UDF was supporting and fulfilling the needs of just one minority community. “They have been doing this for a long time. This distanced the traditional Christian community from UDF,” he said, adding that the proof of this can be seen in the election results in places like Idukki.

The speech made by Oommen Chandy’s son, regarding conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Turkey, did not go well with the church and its bishops.

The stand of Jacobite Church made Chandy sweat though he won Puthuppally. His lead dropped drastically in Pampady and Manarcad panchayats that are Jacobite strongholds. This was due to the support extended by Jacobite church to LDF candidates as an acknowledgment of the support given by LDF government on the dispute with Orthodox Church. This trend was visible in Jacobite-dominated areas in Ernakulam. Though Jacobite church leaders met BJP ahead of the elections, they went back to LDF at the last minute as they realized that BJP won’t be able to deliver what they want in the Church dispute.

In Pala strong undercurrents against Jose K Mani, within LDF ranks, resulted in his defeat despite the support extended by the church. The failure of Congress and the UDF in promoting new and young leaders as mediators to talks with new church heads is also seen as a failure.

This news article was published in The Times of India on May 3, 2021. Click here to read

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