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Kerala Assembly polls: Will the lotus bloom?


As Kerala braces up for assembly elections on May 16, the stage is set for what many are calling the electoral exercise a “game changer” election in the Southern state. Not only the two traditional alliances­ --­ the ruling Congress­-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)­led Left Democratic Front (LDF)­­ have dominated the political landscape in this state since the 1970s but the BJP­ led-National Democratic Alliance is gearing up to set its foot in the electoral arena this time. The coming assembly polls in Kerala are crucial for the BJP as it comes after a severe drubbing of the saffron party at the hustings in Bihar in November last year. Will the lotus finally bloom in Kerala? That is the question many are asking. The BJP has been a cipher in electoral politics in ""God's Own Country""' so far. However, the winds of change appear to be finally blowing in Kerala.

The performance of the BJP in the Aruvikkara by elections held in June last year, where the party finished third behind the Congress and CPI (M), did give a jolt to its rivals by increasing its vote share Also, it was the performance of the BJP that became a topic of discussion among the political observers as well as the public. The party also managed to make inroads into the UDF and the LDF bastions in the elections to the local self institutions held in November 2015. BJP won about 1,100 of the 21,871 seats across the three­-tier local body structure in Kerala. The BJP is now the main opposition in the Thiruvanthapuram Corporation beating the traditional Congress party to the third place.

The saffron party shocked the Congress and CPI (M) in Palakkad municipality winning 24 seats to become the largest party there. In what is being seen as tough elections owing to the history of Kerala of not voting back the incumbent, an imponderable in BJP has raised expectations of a turnaround. A pre-­election survey conducted by C­Fore for Asianet News has predicted that the BJP would open its account for the first time in the May 16 assembly elections. The survey, conducted between February 1­12, said the BJP may get its highest ever­ vote share of 18 per cent in Kerala and is likely to get 3 to 5 seats. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party was close to winning a seat when veteran leader O Rajagopal narrowly lost to Congress' Shashi Tharoor in the Thiruvanthapuram The party has now made plans to coming assembly elections and it involves weaning the voters from both the principal blocs especially the Ezhva section aligned with the Left.

The BJP joined hands with Vellapally Natesan, General Secretary of the Sree Naryana Dharma Paripala Yogam (SNDP) on March 10, a powerful organization of backward Ezhava community. After the stupendous mass support it gathered in the Kerala Panchayat elections, there is a kind of confidence in the BJP and its immediate task is to make the assembly tally from zero in 2011 to double digit in the coming assembly elections. Going all out, the state BJP unit has complied a list of 100 candidates which indicates the party could be contesting all or most of the 140 seats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP seems to have been successful in what the Marxists in Kerala have been desperately trying in vain, wooing the influential Syrian Christians clergy which always stood by the Congress-­led UDF. What began as a trickle few years ago seems to have gained considerable momentum of late with heads of different sects of the Syrian Christians either praising Modi or refusing to criticise him. BJP is also egging on the Muslims. Despite the Opposition accusations of scams, the Oommen Chandy­-led government is expecting to create history by retaining power in the state and if it does that, it would be the first time the incumbents retain power in Kerala.

On the other hand, the Left Opposition is equally determined to ensure that power in the state alternates between the Congress and the Left. Chandy is going to face the heat during the elections for his controversial steps of shutting down more than 700 bars with permission to sell liquor accorded only to five star hotels, which has led to the loss of revenue and his alleged involvement in multi­-crore solar scam. Chandy is likely to fight from Puthupally, his home town in Kottayam district. The state Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, will be looking to get re-­elected from Harippad, a largely rural constituency in Aleppy district. Among the giants to watch for are VM Sudheeran, the state Congress President, known for his staunch endorsement of Kerala liquor policy that aimed to bring down phase wise prohibition of alcoholism in the state, he will contest from Manalur in Thrissur district. In the event of CPI (M) coming to power in Kerala, the state CPI (M) Secretary, could very well end up as the Chief Minister. But there are hurdles in the way most prominently in the form of VS Achuthanandan, the fiery former Chief Minister. KM Mani, Congress (Mani) leader, who resigned as Finance Minister from the Chandy-­led UDF in November last year, in the wake of charges that he pocketed bribe from bar owners, will contest from Pala seat, from where he has fought elections since 1965. Former Union Minister O Rajagopal, 86, seniormost BJP elder in the State, is pitching from Nemom seat. Kummanan Rajasekharan newly­appointed Kerala BJP president is most likely to contest from the Vattiyoorkavu seat in Thiruvanthapuram, Former Chief Minister and CPM veteran V S Achuthanandan, 93 is raring to contest from Malampuzha in Palakkad district. (ENDS)"

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