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Kerala

European sources from 1498 into the 20th century refer to Kerala as "the Malabar Coast". The name Kerala (Keralam) is thought to have been derived from Kera (Coconut palm tree) + alam (land or location). Kerala is a relatively prosperous state on the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. The state has long been a stronghold of the Communist Party of India [CPI], though its policies remain moderately social-democratic. Kerala's socioeconomic development is an example of how investments in human capital result in poverty reduction and prosperity. The state has vastly higher literacy rates and better health outcomes than the rest of India. But skilled workers are the state’s major export – it receives more money in expat remittances than any other state in India, much from the Middle East – and is a large tourism hub.

The State had been so much notoriously known throughout the country as one of the Problem States, a State where political instability had been prevailing for several decades. By the 1970s the Marxist party could not claim any more that it was a revolutionary party.

In Kerala state, in 2921 the ruling lefist political party was set to form government while the BJP led-alliance won no seats. On 02 May 2021 the counting of votes for a total of 957 candidates from three coalitions comprising 36 parties and independents are contesting 160 seats in the unicameral state assembly. State elections in Kerala are usually predictable affair, with most voters steadfast on who they will vote for. Their choices are confined to the Indian National Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) or the Communist parties-dominated Left Democratic Front (LDF). A well-known electoral tradition in the state with the highest literate rate at 96.2 per cent is that its voters have always had an anti-incumbency approach, as a check and balance. The state government has changed hands between UDF and LDF alternatively, and no state government was re-elected in Kerala, except in 1977 when UDF beat the odds to retain it consecutively. A coalition forming the next Kerala government needs a simple majority of 71 seats. Kerala had a single-phase election on 6 April 2021. Kerala is a close election where the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the state’s Communist parties held a narrow edge over the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). BJP's goal in Kerala is to grab a few seats in a bipolar contest between two big alliances: the Congress alliance and the Left. The last elections saw the BJP win a seat for the first time in the state. In a state where almost half the population is composed of minorities, the BJP has had to soften its Hindutva ideology, trying to gain influence among the Christian minority, in a reprise of its strategy in the Western state of Goa. The meeting of Modi with leaders of the Catholic Church, particularly from Kerala, was seen as an attempt at wooing Christians ahead of the assembly elections.

Kerala has among the highest RSS shakhas in the country but that has never translated into electoral gains for the BJP. The party’s Kerala unit was formed in 1981 but it has never made any impact in a state with significant Muslim and Christian populations. In Kerala, where BJP is trying to make inroads and has fielded ‘Metro man’ E, Sreedharan, the BJP has promised that temple administration will be freed from political control and entrusted to devotees. It has also promised a legislation for the “protection of traditions and practices of Sabarimala temple”, apparently in light of the controversy surrounding the entry of girls and women of the menstruating age group into the temple.

Other promises include: “Legislation for an independent, non-political and devotee-controlled temple administration as recommended by K.P. Sankaran Nair commission. Urgent steps to reacquire the encroached land of temples. Facilities to be instituted in temples for the study of Sanatana Dharma. Project to revive and renovate temples which are in a dilapidated condition.” In addition, the party has vowed a legislation against “love jihad” and a ban on forcible religious conversion. The only mention of “cow” in the manifesto is with reference to a promise to expand and modernise “the elephant yard and cow shed at Guruvayoor”.

BJP National President JP Nadda has said that that time has come for people in Kerala to say "goodbye" to communists, UDF, LDF and Congress, who have been "coming to power like musical chairs" in the state. Addressing a public rally in Thodupuzha today, Mr Nadda said: "Our vote share has increased from 5 per cent to 16 per cent to 18 per cent-19 per cent, but the seat share hasn''t. Time has come to say goodbye to communists, UDF, LDF, and Congress. They have been coming to power like musical chairs. Both (LDF &UDF) are ideologically bankrupt."

The dynamics of the voters in 2019 were significantly impacted by the Sabarimala temple issue. The holy shrine of Sabarimala saw the Kerala's public fighting against the Supreme Court (SC) order that banned the entry of women into Sabarimala. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) had gotten a significant support from the people for their stand on the issue while the Left Democratic Front-led state government faced a major set back.

After Rahul Gandhi decided to contest from Wayanad, the Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala came to the national prominence. Rahul Gandhi, who contested from Wayanad besides Amethi, where he conceded defeat, defeated his nearest CPI candidate PP Suneer by a margin of over 4.31 lakh votes. Rahul Gandhi won the Lok Sabha seat by 70,5034 votes while the Communist Party of India PP got 27,3971 votes. Rahul Gandhi's winning margin was a state record.

After its debacle in West Bengal and Tripura, the Left parties were fighting an existential battle in their last citadel of Kerala, which was polling 23 April 2019 in the Lok Sabha elections. Though the state had only 20 seats in all, the stakes were high as all eyes were not only on the Left’s performance but also on the Wayanad seat, which suddenly acquired prominence with Congress party fielding its President Rahul Gandhi from the seat, apart from his long-held Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Congress was trying to strike a north-south balance with Wayanad. Whereas BJP was making an attempt to wrest the prestigious Amethi seat by fielding its high profile Minister Smriti Irani. BJP claimed that fear of imminent defeat had prompted Gandhi to fight from a Congress stronghold in the southernmost state.

The CPI(M)-led Ruling Left Democratic Front had also taken umbrage at Gandhi choosing to fight the Left and thereby “weakening” the fight against ‘communalism’. But the move certainly boosted the morale of the Congress cadres as its partners in the Opposition, United Democratic Front were also hoping to cash in on the anti-incumbency against the Pinarayi Vijayan Government. However, Gandhi had maintained that he would not utter a word against the Left.

The BJP-led NDA, on the other hand, was hoping to get its maiden Lok Sabha seat in the state with the Sabarimala controversy taking the center stage in its campaign. The party fielded prominent candidates including former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajashekharan (Thiruvananthapuram), Union Minister Alphonse Kannanthanam (Ernakulam) and actor Suresh Gopi (Thrissur) besides state party General Secretary K Surendran, as its candidate from the Pathanamthitta constituency, the Sabarimala flashpoint.

P.C.Thomas, former Union Minister and an NDA ally contested the Kottayam Lok Sabha seat while another ally, Thushar Vellapally of Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) is contesting against Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Wayanad. BDJS is a political outfit initiated by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalanayogam (SNDP), an organisation for the prominent Hindu Ezhava community in Kerala, which has traditionally backed the Left parties. Thushar is the vice president of the SNDP.

Kerala had all along been a stronghold of the RSS. However, its political affiliate BJP had not been able to take advantage of the same in the absence of dynamic leadership. Ironically, in Kerala, the CPI(M) had always been the ‘Hindu party’ with the sizeable minority population, who by and large, prefer to support the Congress and its allies such as the Christian dominated Kerala Congress and Indian Union Muslim League.

Therefore, political observers always saw the widespread violent clashes between the CPI(M) and RSS cadres, more as a turf war for the Hindu vote rather than any ideological battle. The BJP’s vote share across the state was around 10 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which went up to around 14 per cent in the 2016 Assembly elections. However, in 2019, riding on the Sabarimala sentiment, the party sees a realistic chance for itself in at least four seats, Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Pathanamthitta and Kasargod, bordering Karnataka. To quote Kummanam Rajashekharan, BJP’s candidate against Congress’ high profile Shashi Tharoor in the state capital, “ our party stood by believers and (party chief) Amit Shah specifically spoke about Sabarimala when he came here. Lakhs of people have supported us. Innocent people have been jailed".

It was for the first time in the history of Kerala that such a mass agitation had come up. The state government just wanted to crush it. The importance of the Sabarimala issue for the BJP got reflected even in its national manifesto wherein it stated, “We will undertake every effort to ensure that the subject of faith, tradition and worship rituals related to Sabarimala are presented in a comprehensive manner before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. We will endeavour to secure constitutional protection on issues related to faith and belief.”

The party believes that its aggressive stand against the Left Front government’s move to implement the Supreme Court order amid widespread protests will yield political dividends in the upcoming polls. The state had witnessed frenzied protests by devotees and activists last year after the state government decided to implement the apex court order allowing menstrual age women into the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala setting aside a traditional ban.

The campaign saw Prime Minister Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, several Union Ministers, Rahul Gandhi, his sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and top leaders of Left parties addressing rallies in different parts of the state. Though a late entrant, the Congress also jumped into the Sabarimala bandwagon claiming the party had moved the Supreme Court on the issue way back and would protect the interests of the devotees.

Random surveys had shown that majority of the Ayyappa devotees, mostly belonging to the Upper Caste Nair community, want to defeat the Left Front. They would back the BJP where it is seen to be strong, mainly Pathanamthitta and Thiruvananthapuram but would vote for the Congress where the grand old party was the main challenger to the Left Front.

As per Indian Constitution, Kerala Government has three estates namely the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Each estate has its own functions to perform. Legislature is the law-making body. Kerala follows a unicameral legislative system, i.e. there is only one house for State legislature; namely the Legislative Assembly. The total members in the Kerala legislative assembly is 141. Of these, 140 are elected directly by the people on the basis of adult suffrage and one member is nominated from the Latin Community, which falls under the minority category. The members of the Legislative Assembly elect one of the members as it's Speaker and another as Deputy Speaker. The Speaker presides over the meetings of the House and conducts the business of the government. In his absence, the Deputy Speaker performs the duties of the speaker.

The Governor appoints the leader of the majority party in the Legislative Assembly as the Chief Minister. The other ministers are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister is the head of the elected Government and heads the Council of Ministers. The council of ministers is collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly.

Judiciary is separated from the Executive and the Legislature and the Constitution provides an independent and impartial Judiciary. The judiciary comprises the Kerala High Court and a system of lower courts. The high court holds the seats of Chief Justice and 26 permanent and two additional temporary justices. The High Court of Kerala is the apex court for the State and also hears cases from the Union Territory of Lakshadweep.

Auxiliary authorities known as panchayats for which elections are held in every five years, govern local affairs. After the 74th Amendmend of the Constitution, Kerala is following a three-tier panchayat Raj system, comprising District Panchayat, Block Panchayat and Village Panchayat.



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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:15:55 ZULU