Kerala Elections 2021 – Lessons for a bottom-up polity
Popularly known as God’s own country, Kerala is uniquely situated in the Indian polity both in terms of policy, as well as politics. Well known for its bottom-up governance backed with a robust social policy infrastructure - for example the average literacy rate in the state is 92.6 percent compared to a national average of 77.7 percent - the state assembly went to the polls this year. The political landscape is majorly dominated by two alliances - Left Democractic Front (LDF), an amalgamation of thirteen parties led by the CPI(M), and United Democractic Front (UDF) a combination of nine parties led by the INC. Recently, there has been some increase in the vote share of BJP as well where they were able to secure a seat in 2016 elections. The opposition, led by the LDF, was challenging the incumbent UDF government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with over 950 candidates contesting the elections. BJP also took some media space for the ‘metroman’ joining them.
The elections were majorly contested on the issues of social policy related to health and education infrastructure, developmental work done by the current government over last five years and relief measures taken to contain the spread of coronavirus with equal emphasis on faith and religion.
With few corruption matters propping up here and there, the rhetoric of the parties was majorly predictable. While the UDF threw its weight behind the customs where it publicized a draft version of the law it sought to enact once voted to power to neutralize the Sabarimala judgment, the LDF - as the incumbent - took a milder stand where it, more or less, supported the status quo and focused on the work done by it in the government in the past five years.
With various caste and geographic conditions at play, few things emerge as commonality in polls. Like in any other state, the questions of religion and caste dynamics were equally important for all the contenders in the fray. All the parties were targeting votes from specific communities in the state like the Nairs, the Ezhavas, Christians and so on and so forth - thereby making it clear that caste and religion are equally important in the state which has the best public education infrastructure in the country. It makes it clear that a robust social policy in a governance setup has its limitations. It cannot replace the quest for faith and belief in the populace and the contesting parties have to maintain a balance between good governance and religion measures while catering to the electorate.
First, that even though Kerala, as a state, has a robust social policy and welfare structure, people are equally moved by promises made related to the faith and belief and satiating the faith and belief quotient in the state at its own.
Equally important were the local polls conducted in December 2020. The state through the same elected leaders for 941 gram panchayats and 87 municipalities. With developmental issues majorly cutting across the board, few inspirational stories emerge on that front.
Arya Rajendran, aged 21, is Mayor of the state capital, Thiruvananthpuram. Daughter of an electrician-father and a mother who is an LIC agent, Rajendran was someone who was exposed to political overtures at quite a young age. She was part of Balsangam - the children’s organisation affiliated to the CPI(M) - and later rose to be its state President. She then became a member of Student Federation of India (SFI) of which she is now a state member. She is currently doing her B.Sc. from All Saints College.
Saruthi, aged 22, became the President of Olavanna gram panchayat, Kozhikode. She won from Iringallur ward in the panchayat. She ran a ration shop in her ward during the lockdown and rose through the party ranks through her hard work by first joining CPI(M) and then rising to be the Joint Secretary of Democratic Youth Federation of India. She is currently enrolled in Bhawan’s law College (Kozhikode) and makes sure that the election work doesn’t affect her studies. Even before the elections, she took an exam just a day before. She helped her party come in power after a dry spell of 20 years.
Author: Sumit Jain