This is one election where real issues haven’t found their way on to poll planks. Will supporters of K. Karunakaran and A.K. Antony work against each other? Will the citu try to sabotage the election of cpi(m) politburo member and ldf candidate V.S. Achuthanandan again? Who is sleeping with the bjp this time—the Congress, cpi(m), or both? Will the joker in the pack—the bjp—open its account in the state legislature this time around? Will the central leadership foist its nominee for the CM’s post in the case of the Congress as well as the cpi(m)? These are the hidden, hotly-debated questions.
Public posturing’s another matter. Karunakaran enthusiastically flagged off arch-rival Antony’s campaign in Chertala in Alappuzha district with an assurance to voters that all is well between them. The Left says people can see through such gimmicks and that no one believes Antony and Karunakaran have patched up.
In Malampuzha in Palakkad district, a traditional red stronghold, Achuthanandan is confident: "I don’t see any threat from the citu, they’re much mellowed in this part of the state." In the 1996 state poll, a not-so-mellow citu had scuttled the cpi(m) veteran’s prospects in Alappuzha’s Mararikulam constituency, another red bastion. In the ensuing crackdown, the trade union was brought to its knees by the party leadership, which puts Achuthanandan on a relatively safer perch this time, though there is discontent among industrial workers loyal to sitting mla and finance minister Sivadasa Menon.
In its bid to neutralise the incumbency factor, the ldf leadership’s decided to keep its geriatric cabinet members, including CM E.K. Nayanar, out of the fray. This has ensured fresh faces on the ldf side, which, its leaders feel, will go down well with the electorate.
Up front, the two sides are clearly demarcated by issues, personalities and demographics. The Nairs’ ‘equidistant’ stand, the backing of Abdul Madani’s People’s Democratic Party and the pledge to recast the abkari policy have helped the udf walk surer in central Kerala. In southern constituencies, the ldf ship seems to be sailing smoother that its rival’s. In Kollam district, it enjoys a foothold among workers in traditional industrial sectors like coir and cashew. North Kerala is a seething cauldron of caste and sectarian tensions. The Nadapuram violence involving the cpi(m) and iuml cadres could have an adverse effect for the cpi(m) in adjoining Muslim-dominated constituencies.
There is no indication of a wave favouring either front in the state’s 140 assembly constituencies. The poll promises to be closely fought in most. An additional factor that could impinge on the outcome is that only 80 per cent of the electorate has been issued voter identity cards, which could tell on voter turnout on polling day.
Kerala’s voting profile based on past elections indicates both fronts command stable votebanks with rigid loyalties that manifest with a degree of predictability in each election. It is the "floating votes" that decide the outcome. Uncommitted sections of the electorate such as the urban middle class and the unorganised agricultural labour sector could be key players in the final outcome.