A touch of novelty has come to mark the hotly contested Kerala assembly elections with Metroman E Sreedharan lending his heft to BJP amid Congress-led UDF making a determined effort to oust CPM-led LDF. 88-year-old Sreedharan’s achievements, like Delhi Metro and Konkan Railway, swaddle him in the mould of a technocrat par excellence. But even his party seems undecided how best to utilise him, evident from the confusion over naming him CM candidate. Nevertheless, BJP trusts Sreedharan to woo the middle class despite his age. Meanwhile, a BJP candidate has notched up prized Orthodox Church support for helping spare an ancient church from demolition during highway construction.
Such incremental breakthroughs by BJP will unnerve both LDF and UDF, given typically slim margins by which many candidates sneak through in Kerala elections. Possessing a credible 15% voteshare, BJP’s best hopes of breaching Kerala rest on wooing either the Muslim or Christian minority communities or largescale desertions from Congress/CPM. But both CPM and Congress are clinging to their support bases. And, unlike other states, Congress netas don’t see a future in switching to BJP despite diminishing national returns.
A comfortable civic body poll victory had put LDF ahead. But the gains have dissipated. Charges of nepotism in recruitment for government jobs have put youth awaiting their turn in PSC rank lists on the warpath. Given Kerala’s high unemployment rate among youth – highest nationally in 2019-20 according to Periodic Labour Force Survey – the blowback will be felt. Unlike earlier elections, Congress has kept factionalism under check. Rahul Gandhi is doing his bit, a deep sea fishing expedition endearing him to the sizeable fishing community. While it is do or die for CPM and Congress, BJP will count its gains for the long haul.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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