A recent opinion poll has predicted the return of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) to power in Kerala but with a reduced vote-share despite a strong anti-incumbency against the current United Democratic Front (UDF) government. And that brings us to the more interesting part of the story and that is the BJP's expected vote-share of 18 per cent, the highest ever.
Though Kerala has just 140 seats in its Assembly (the state sends 20 Mps to the Lok Sabha), it doesn't mean that its electoral politics can be put to an easy analysis.
Wooing Ezhavas to snatch Left's vote-bank
Take for example, the Ezhava (toddy tapper) community. This backward but highly influential community, which makes up a big part of the Hindu population of the state, was always a strong vote bank for the LDF, especially the CPI(M). But the BJP has been wooing that community aggressively for some time now.
In February 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the BJP's PM candidate then, addressed a conference organised by the Kerala Pulayar Mahasabha in the presence of Vellapally Natesan, leader of the Sree Narayana Guru Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), a socio-political group that represents the Ezhava community.
In fact, one of Modi's first trip when his party backed him as the PM in 2013 was to a huge event to commemorate Ezhava spiritual leader Sree Narayana Guru at Sivagiri in Varkala district, where he spoke on untouchability - including political untouchability. It was a move that had set the alarm bell ringing for the Left.
The BJP was fast to sense an opportunity in the Ezhavas' growing disillusionment with the CPI(M), which has not been able to nurture another leader of the same stature of V S Achutanandan from the same community. The veteran's growing distance with the party leadership has also played its part in diluting the Ezhava vote-bank for each time the CPI(M) leadershuip censures the old leader, the Ezhavas feel being let down. The BJP has tried to take advantage of this situation.
The SNDP has also been under pressure from another community organisation---the Sivagiri Mutt, which believes the former has deviated from the teachings of Sree Guru. The saffron party stands to gain from these fault lines in the next elections.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy preferred to look away from Modi's growing proximity with the Ezhavas for the UDF would only benefit if that community deserted the LDF and the BJP would not be in a position to pose a strong challenge the UDF. But though the UDF would still find it difficult to overcome the anti-incumbenc challenge, the biggest gainer will be the BJP by creating a rift in the monolithic Hindu vote bank.
Polarisation in Kasaragod constituency
Another part of the BJP's probable success story in Kerala is related to the state's northern constituency of Kasaragod. During the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the BJP ran an aggressive campaign for Modi in these parts where the communal divide between the Hindus and Muslims is quite substantial.
Wooing Ezhavas, Kasaragod polarisation & urban belts of Trivandrum may help BJP
Kerala Crime Records Bureau sources said Kasaragod has seen a rise in communal cases over the years (24 in 2006 to over 150 in 2011). This district has separate Muslim bastions, well-off people who have returned from the Middle East and economically not-well-off Hindus. In Manjeshwar and Kasaragod Assembly constituencies, the BJP had finished second (gap was less than 10,000 votes in both seats) after the IUML in the 2011 polls and third with 18 per cent votes in the 2014 general elections. So there is no doubt that the BJP will go all out this time to better its record in Kerala.
Thiruvananthapuram's urban belts & Rajagopal factor can come to BJP's aid
Thiruvananthapuram is another district where the BJP can expect to do good. The poll said it could win from Nemom where it finished second in the last Assembly polls. Former Union minister O Rajagopal lost that election closely, as he went down by just over 15,000 votes to Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
In the Aruvikkhara constituency in Thiruvananthapura, the BJP gathered 23 per cent votes in the 2015 by-election as against 6.6 per cent in the 2011 Assembly election. Rajagopal, though finished third, but he ensured that his party's vote count increased almost five-fold. The urban belts of the state capital, including the IT hub, is likely to vote in favour of the BJP in the next election.