Thiruvananthapuram: The keenly fought Lok Sabha election for 20 seats in Kerala, which registered a heavy voter turnout on Tuesday, may once again prove the electorate’s penchant to stand unique and follow its legacy to give a mandate based on issues of  core importance in the national context. The state going the UDF way as predicted by many pre-poll survey results not withstanding, the poll percentage pattern indicates likely divergent outcome as well in segments where contests were three cornered. The heavy polling has prompted the two main contenders - Congress-led UDF and CPI(M)-led LDF - to make tall claims and predictions on the final outcome on May 23, while BJP-led NDA nurtures a hope  to become a dark horse in a couple of segments and thus break the electoral invincibility of the Kerala fort for Sangh Parivar forces. 

The campaign during Kerala’s 2019 Lok Sabha polls had undergone a sea change ever since the arrival of Congress president Rahul Gandhi as a contestant in the Wayanad segment. The RaGa effect has inadvertently helped the UDF a lot in most of the segments, particularly in the Malabar region. Even before RaGa play, the embers of the emotive Sabarimala issue, after an intense standoff  between the right wing groups and  the LDF government in the state over entry of young women into the famous shrine, was lying as campaign stock.

If the UDF was the end loser in the 2016 Assembly polls as BJP gnarled into the Hindu support base of the Congress-led front, the Sabarimala issue could eat into the LDF base heavily in the current polls. That a vast majority of Muslim voters in the state, constituting 22% of  the total population, are keen to see Narendra Modi out of power and as a matter of political and existential exigency, has seemingly courted  Congress and PM probable Rahul Gandhi, makes matters not so rosy for the LDF. The UDF’s prospects of bagging a vast majority of seats this time thus remains bright. 

The BJP fold can bank on a notable spurt in its vote share after the final outcome, not less than 3-5% in almost all constituencies. Places where there were fierce three-cornered contests like Pathanamthitta and Thrissur, its poll kitty may be even doubled. Even then,the BJP cannot expect a cakewalk anywhere and the chances would remain as a matter of debate alone.

Interestingly, Thiruvanathapuram segment, where all poll surveys predicted an upper hand for the BJP and even a grand  victory for RSS firebrand and former Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan over the charismatic Congress nominee Shashi Tharoor, has recorded the lowest voter turnout in the state. The urban centres have recorded a relatively low polling, whereas in coastal areas and rural areas which had saved Shashi Tharoor in the last elections, witnessed a heavy voter turnout. The inference is that the hopes of the BJP in the capital city-centred constituency may go down the drain.

LDF is all set to retain Attingal with sitting MP A Sampath scoring over his  opponents Adoor Prakash of the Congress and Sobha Surendran of the BJP. In Kollam, RSP’s sitting MP NK Premachandran has a clear winning edge over his LDF rival KN Balagopal. 

Pathanamthitta, the hub of the Sabarimala  issue and stirs as the temple is situated in the district, remains unpredictable even as UDF’s sitting MP Anto Antony and BJP’s K Surendran are in the race for the top, pushing the LDF candidate behind. Mavelikkara (SC reserved) is set to send Kodikkunnil Suresh again to the Lok Sabha leaving LDF’s Chittayam Gopakumar behind.

In Alappuzha, Congress leader Shanimol Usman may scrape through though CPM’s AM Arif, who is the sitting MLA, has given a good fight.

Though not with a comfortable margin, Dean Kuriakose of the Congress is set to pass the test over sitting LDF MP Joice George in the agrarian segment of  Idukki. In Ernakulam, the segment is positioned as numero uno for the Congress and UDF in the state. Sitting MLA Hybi Eden could surely be in the victory stand with CPM’s P Rajiv in the second slot. 

Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam would have to be content with his remaining term as a Rajya Sabha MP .

Chalakkudy may also be not different and UDF convenor Benny Behanan of the Congress is most likely poised to emerge smarter than his immediate opponent and actor-turned-sitting MP Innocent, in spite of lot of bickering against him at the local level. At Thrissur, TN Pratapan of  the Congress is tipped to wrest the seat from the LDF defeating Rajaji Mathew Thomas (CPI) and ‘star’ fighter Suresh Gopi of the BJP.

In Alathur (SC reserved), where debutant Remya Haridas(Congress) and sitting MP PK Biju (CPM) were locked in a keen contest amid controversies, the poll outcome remains unpredictable. In adjacent Palakkad, MB Rajesh (CPM) is set for his continued innings as Lok Sabha MP, beating VK Sreekandan of the Congress and BJP candidate Krishnakumar.

The post poll scenario in Malabar region covering Ponnani, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Vadakara, Kannur and Kasargod, a clean sweep is more or less certain for the UDF.  

Wayanad remains the epicentre of the UDF wave in northern Malabar with the entry of  Rahul Gandhi, whose landslide victory in the polls is a foregone conclusion. The organisational prowess of  UDF ally IUML proved to be  a match for the CPM machinery and was thus a great relief for the Congress, unlike in organisationally-deprived  segments in central and southern Kerala.

Still, LDF could look at possible gains in Kasargod and perhaps Vadakara.

Winnabilty: UDF - 14-16 seats; LDF - 5-6  seats

Fresh political lessons in store for Kerala?

If the UDF and the LDF fought the elections primarily on political issues, the BJP was scoring on the Sabarimala issue wrapped with religious and communal overtones. The ruling LDF government led by Pinarayi Vijayan remained as a brave heart but the final poll results may wreck it. The UDF treaded a safe path and the Congress was more focused on its minority vote bank.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-BJP president Amit Shah combine blew the Sabarimala issue effectively, along with the bugle of hyper nationalism and countering terrorism to notch the support of the state’s electorate. He also kept sizing down the Communist-Congress bonhomie outside Kerala. The Sabarimala  issue was viewed as a last straw for the BJP to draw  support from a large section of the Hindu community.

Though Pinarayi Vijayan and team made it big with a historical wall of  women, coupled with backward and scheduled castes in large numbers, Kerala’s poll outcome could be expected to hand out a few lessons, as the state may not be able to stick to its politically bipolar turf any longer.