Voter turnout may be tested in India’s most literate state that has seen one of the most violent election campaigns

Kerala state transport corporation buses damaged during a strike over the Sabarimala issue, in Thiruvananthapuram, Thursday, Jan.03, 2019.Photo)(
  • Intense violence has tainted Kerala' politics in recent years.
  • Simmering tensions between the UDF, LDF, and the BJP may affect voter turnout.
  • If people decide to avoid voting to stay safe, it may skew the results.
The southern state of Kerala, famous for its scenic backwaters and high literacy rate, has seen one of the most violent election campaigns in the country. If people decide to sit at home to avoid getting caught in any sort of violence, it may skew the results in favour of one party or the other.

More than 30 people, including a policeman, were injured at Thiruvalla where the activists of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) clashed on the last day of the campaign (April 21). That was only one of the many violent clashes that have caught headlines in the state that boasts of 94% literacy, according to the 2011 census.

Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), better known by its acronym CPI(M), said that the party had 13 workers in the last one year. However, police records verified by NDTV showed that 14 people from the RSS, BJP, and the left parties have been murdered for political reasons since February 2018. The count of similar deaths between 2000 and 2017 escalates to over 170, according to the same report.

The increasingly restive political air in Kerala only shows how tight the fight is going to be. 26 million voters are enlisted for voting on April 23, the third phase of polling in the ongoing elections for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament.

The voter turnout in the state was a record 73.6% in 2014, the highest since 1991. The United Democratic Front led by the Indian National Congress bagged 12 seats while the remaining eight went to the LDF led by the communist party-led coalition. However, the BJP is expected to be a strong contender this time around, more than it has been ever before.

The threat from the BJP is seen as the strongest in some regions that have strong Hindu majority, where people are peeved by a 2018 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women into the Sabarimala Temple. Tradition did not allow women of menstruating age into the temple until the court verdict.

The BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), milked the issue and kept the anger alive to turn it against the incumbent Parliamentarians.

Hindus make up for only 54% of the state’s population, according to the 2011 Census, compared to 80% nationally. 26% of Kerala’s population are Muslims and 18% are Christians. However, the RSS has had a strong support base in Kerala for years but the hindu natioanlist organisation is now stronger in the state than ever before.

The odds of BJP getting more votes than before are higher but most opinion polls have still pegged it as a two-way fight between the UDF and the LDF in the state.

A big factor working in favour of the LDF is the elevated reputation of state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. He won accolades for effectively managing a devastating flood in the state in 2018. The state also has a long history of leftists dominating state politics. Kerala’s first chief minister in 1957, EMS Namboodiripad, was one of the world’s first communist leaders to head an elected government.

On the other hand, UDF led by Congress is trying to squeeze the BJP out by supporting the protests against the entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple. “Well, you cannot afford to write off the votes of the majority in times of political interest,” Congress leader Shashi Tharoor fighting to defend the state capital Thriuvananthapuram told Quartz. The margin for error has shrunk significantly for Tharoor who swept the seat with 100,000 more votes than the second candidate in 2009. By 2014, it had shrunk to 14,000 and this time it is expected to be even tighter.

Given that tensions are running high, voter turnout may become a deciding factor.

SEE ALSO:
LIVE BLOG: Voting in 117 constituencies underway
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