Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Unbecoming of exit polls for Kerala

Dr D Dhanuraj

As always, the discussion on the exit poll results has caught the attention of every Malayalee this time also. The majority of the exit polls predict that LDF will form government in Kerala with a notable exception of one NewsNation forecasting a hung assembly. The exit polls have generated unprecedented discussion in Kerala society for a few reasons. This time, the elections in Kerala did not show any trend favouring any front and it was fiercely contested one, even agreed upon by the fronts. The voters in Kerala was enamoured by the presence of a strong BJP – BDJS alliance:- NDA and it is said to boost the election spirits this time around.  Unlike in the earlier polls, this time the campaign was devoid of any governance agenda and rather it thrived more or less on the personality vs corruption charges levelled against them from all the sides. Even though it is the turn of the left parties to form the government as per the usual trend in Kerala, the resurgence of UDF towards the last phase of the polls made the election scene very competitive. With the strong pitch by the PM led campaign for BJP-BDJS, the election this time has reached a nerve cracking finish. With this general mood in the atmosphere, some of the forecasts published by pollsters raised healthy debates on the poll outcomes scheduled for tomorrow.

CPI(M) led LDF started as favourites early this year much ahead of the election announcement. At the start of the campaign, they had issues with the selection of the candidates as it didn’t go well for a cadre based disciplined party structure of left parties. But they were able to regain the momentum with public reports of  disagreements among the top leaders of Congress party on the selection of candidates that become more damaging in the public eyes.  There has been spirited harmony between the comrades, V S Achuthananthan and Pinarayai Viajayan. Thanks to that, VS led the attack on CM Oommen Chandy. UDF has been on the backfoot for many weeks and they were not able to roll out the campaign plans as they had intended. At the same time, LDF campaigns on radio and visual media were not rated high as compared to those by UDF and NDA. Some political analysts also commented on how NDA were effectively using its outreach campaign to push themselves as a third front. LDF had moved ahead slowly even though at places they lacked the energetic party machinery to sustain the campaign mood for many weeks. NDA tried their best to capture the attention of the voters with high voltage campaign involving the central ministers and RSS machinery wherever possible. It has been the trend of the elections till the last phase of the campaign.

Strategists on each front tried to woo the minority voters by courting the community leaders and religious institutions. With the increased presence of BDJS and their fervent campaign at many places shocked the established players. It led to the uncertainty in the voting behaviour and no one has been able to theorise who would be the winners and losers in the game yet. At least on the campaign front, everyone accepts that BDJS candidates have performed better than what many had expected in the beginning.

Even though the corruption has been the headline in Kerala for the last two years, the opposition has failed to push the anti-corruption agenda into its core campaign framework or at least it is not the perception general public has. Of course, Keralites always responded to the corruption charges through the ballot and this time also, one could expect the same reaction. Even then, one could not rule out UDF’s resurgence leading to a closer fight with LDF. With the Modi campaign, the minority consolidation favoured UDF and its alliance partners. Quick response by Oommen Chandy in response to PM’s comparison with Somalia with LDF confused with whom to attack at the beginning on the whole issue. Raking the Malayalee pride, Oommen Chandy ensured that the fight is between BJP and UDF. It was an attempt by the wily politician to consolidate minority votes by restating and conveying the message all the time that the fight is between BJP and UDF. With the very emotional Sonia Gandhi on the scene, he could consolidate Congress vote bank linking the whole congress idea of being Nehru – Gandhi acolyte.

All these developments during the last phase helped UDF considerably. Those naysayers will still argue that the decision for whom to vote is taken by an average Malayalee not at the time of campaign but long ago. Still, I believe with NDA and 2 % swing, the results could be very close with a slight edge for LDF. The exit polls indicate and provide us with what an average voter in Kerala might have thought about the governance and corruption in the last few years. Even then, it leaves some space for all the stake holders to worry about the outcome.

Conspiracy theory: With the exit polls forecasts a thumping win for LDF and reduced BJP/NDA vote bank, it could be an attempt by BJP to decimate Congress at the cost of left parties in Kerala. Congress is abigger threat to BJP compared to a few MPs sent by left parties from Kerala. Rest, I leave it to you to guess what would have happened….

 *The author is the Chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi. Views expressed by the author is personal.

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