Opinion | Hindu Consolidation, LDF Rout: How The Lotus Bloomed In Kerala

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

The lotus has finally bloomed in Kerala as the state sent its first-ever Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member to the Lok Sabha. Actor-turned-BJP politician Suresh Gopi not only won from Thrissur, but he did so with a handsome margin of 75,000 votes. The superstar's win in Kerala's cultural capital may not be entirely unexpected, but the BJP's giant strides in the state, known for its bipolar polity, is the main story of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections from Kerala.

In nearly a repeat of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had won 19 out of the 20 seats, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been left with the lone seat of Alathur this time. The UDF wrested Alappuzha as its candidate, and the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary K.C. Venugopal, prevailed over the LDF's A.M. Arif. The BJP's win in Thrissur came at the expense of the LDF, with Congress candidate K. Muraleedharan relegated to third place.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - comprising the BJP and the Ezhava-caste outfit Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) - saw a 4 percentage point (pp) hike in its vote share to 19.2%. The LDF was down to a third of the total vote share at 33.34%, nearly two points less than its 2019 tally. The UDF, too, lost 2 pp from 2019, maintaining its vote share a shade below 45%.

In the Travancore and Kochi regions, the saffron party secured close to a fourth of the total vote share, getting closer to the LDF. This was in line with the Lokniti-CSDS's post-poll analysis, which indicated that around 23% people wanted Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. 

More Hindus Side With BJP

The NDA's vote share rise is being attributed to a greater Hindu consolidation behind the BJP. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, 32% of the Ezhavas supported the NDA, up 11 pp from 2019. The corresponding figure for the Nair community was 45%, up 2 pp from 2019. Meanwhile, the survey also indicates that 5% of Christian votes went to the NDA, up 3 pp from 2019.

The BJP managed to raise its vote share in all the constituencies it contested in 2024, except Pathanamthitta (Malappuram saw a fractional dip), which saw a steep fall of nearly 4 pp from 2019. Clearly, the experiment of fielding a novice in Anil Antony backfired, with Christian voters rallying behind Anto Antony of the Congress instead.

Read | Analysis: Biggest Takeaways From Election Results In 3 Southern States

True, Christian votes proved crucial to Suresh Gopi's win in Thrissur, but this was an exception against the consolidation of the community behind the UDF in the rest of Kerala. The UDF vote share of 45%, despite comprising fewer votes from the Hindu community (as per Lokniti-CSDS figures), suggests that both the minority communities in Kerala rallied behind it.

The Ezhava vote

Paradoxically, for the BJP, it was the Ezhava-backed BDJS that could not match up to expectations despite getting some coveted seats to contest. Pathanamthitta aside, the Chalakudy seat contested by the BDJS also registered a significantly lower vote share for the NDA compared to 2019. However, though the BDJS couldn't manage to pull its weight in the coalition, it has helped the BJP make inroads into the community.

The Ezhava community has traditionally been the backbone of the CPI(M)'s support base in Kerala, and the results sound alarm bells for the party. The shift towards the BJP was not limited to the Travancore and Kochi regions but extended to Malabar in North Kerala. The vote in Malabar is considered more political than in other regions, and the BJP will take a lot of heart in doubling its figures in the Pinarayi panchayat of the chief minister as well as other Marxist 'party villages'.

The LDF's No-Show

The LDF's poor show is being attributed primarily to the massive anti-incumbency against the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government. The CPI (M) put up its best candidates, such as Thomas Isaac and K.K. Shailaja, but to no avail. The nominations of its Kannur and Kasaragod district secretaries were also attempts to arrest the erosion of its cadre votes.

These efforts clearly came to naught as the LDF vote dropped even below the 2019 figure. Ironically, back then, the elections had been held against the backdrop of the Sabarimala protests. This time, neither the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) debate nor the sentiments over the Israel-Palestine conflict could win the party any favour with the Muslim community. In fact, if anything, all this may have worked against the Left, as is evident in the erosion of its Ezhava vote. Pinarayi's targeting of Rahul Gandhi also seems to have backfired among minorities. 

Candidates Matter

The importance of fielding good candidates cannot be overstated. This is evident in the win of not just Suresh Gopi in Thrissur but also K. Radhakrishnan in Alathur. Going into polls, Pathanamthitta was considered as difficult as Thiruvananthapuram for the BJP. But while Rajeev Chandrasekhar did give Congress stalwart Shashi Tharoor a tough competition in the latter - though he lost eventually - Anil Antony couldn't make a contest of it in Pathanamthitta.

The BJP made unexpected gains in Attingal, where outgoing minister V. Muraleedharan hunkered down and nursed the constituency to almost spring a surprise. The candidature of Sobha Surendran in Alappuzha also proved decisive in the BJP raising its vote share by over 11 pp, the highest climb for any constituency.

Triangular Contests

One takeaway from the 2024 Lok Sabha election in Kerala is the increasingly triangular nature of the contests, with the BJP clearly on the ascendant.

People seemed to have made up their minds to vote either for or against the party in power at the Centre. Amidst this, the Congress naturally enjoyed an advantage as the bigger party in the INDIA bloc over the CPI(M). As per the Lokniti-CSDS survey, Rahul Gandhi, at 32%, enjoyed a nine-point lead over Modi as the preferred choice for Prime Minister.

The BJP's gains in Attingal and Alappuzha have implications for the upcoming assembly polls in the state. If we extrapolate the results to assembly segments, the BJP has come first in 11 assembly constituencies out of 140 and second in another nine. In 2019, the BJP managed to come out on top only in the Nemom assembly constituency, where the party opened its account in the 2016 assembly polls through O. Rajagopal. In five other assembly constituencies, the BJP has emerged a close third, trailing by a few hundred votes. Needless to say, the party's gains in these 25 constituencies in total can turn the 2026 assembly polls triangular.

The Elusive Christian Vote

The BJP will be disappointed not to make inroads into the Christian community beyond Thrissur. The win here was driven more by the laity than the Church. The appointment of George Kurian, a long-time BJP leader hailing from Central Travancore, as a Minister of State in Modi 3.0 (along with Suresh Gopi) is an attempt by the BJP to further woo the community.

Unlike former Union Minister K.J. Alphons, for instance, who did not wield any clout within the community, Kurian has acted as the BJP's point man for the Church heads in Kerala. If the NDA has to expand its gains in Kerala beyond the Hindu consolidation it has achieved this year, it will have to get a slice of the Christian pie too. And that is not going to be an easy task, going by the evidence so far.

(Anand Kochukudy is a senior journalist and columnist)

Disclaimer: These are the personal views of the author