During my recent trip to Kerala it became apparent that there were elections coming up. Being a British leftie interested in politics, with family connections to Kerala, I made sure I followed the results as they were announced this weekend.
These were local elections were for panchayat bodies at a grama, block, district, and municipal/corporation level. The UK equivalents would be something like grama = village; block = village group; district = county; and municipal/corporation = metropolitan or city council.
Why should anyone in the UK care about the Keralan panchayat local election results? Here’s a few reasons for those British folk of a leftist persuasion:
- India is the biggest democracy on the planet (with over 800m voters), it is one of the up and coming BRIC countries whose economies are quickly developing and it could well be overtaking some of the G7 countries in the next 15 years. India matters.
- From a UK perspective you might want to factor in that India is the second largest English speaking country in the world after the US, so understanding a bit about an English speaking country that will have increasing trade relations with the UK might be helpful.
- In the 2o14 general election the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) more than doubled their tally of seats and now have a majority in the Indian parliament. The BJP are a very right wing party with very close links to both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Shiv Sena both of whom are extreme right wing Hindu nationalist organisations with a propensity to violence, particularly towards Muslims.
- The state of Kerala has a strong left wing tradition and a liberal culture of different religions getting along without any problems. It is one of few states in India where the BJP have been unable to sow divisions and make significant progress. Given the dominance of the right in Europe and the bigoted nationalist right in the Indian national government it would be refreshing to see if the left can make some gains in Kerala.
- The strong leftwing tradition (that started with the election off a Communist state government in the first elections after independence) means that Kerala has the lowest positive population growth rate in India (3.44%); the highest Human Development Index (HDI) (0.790 in 2011); the highest literacy rate (93.91%); and the highest life expectancy (77 years).
In the last panchayat elections in 2010 the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) led Left Democratic Front (LDF) alliance lost a lot of seats to the Indian National Congress party (INC) led United Democratic Front (LDF). The BJP had very few seats after the 2010 elections.
So the two big questions were:(1) could the LDF claw their way back so Kerala could rebuild its leftist credentials and; (2) would the BJP start to make any inroads in this traditionally religiously liberal state?
The simple answers to the two questions above are yes the CPI(M) led LDF did well and polled the best; but the BJP did start to make inroads in Kerala and won more seats (mainly at the expense of the Congress led UDF). The Hindu newspaper headline was “LDF roars back, BJP makes a mark” which sums it up quite well.
I’ve knocked up a graph, below, that shows the seats won.
The BJP scored two notable results. They are now the second largest party behind the LDF in the Keralan state capital Thiruvananthapuram. In the Palakkad municipal elections they were the biggest party and only three seats short of a majority. The BJP results are worrying as they seem to be making inroads with their divisive and bigoted politics in the traditionally religiously diverse and tolerant state of Kerala.
Below is another graph I knocked up that shows the number of panchayat bodies where each party is the biggest.
Kerala is known for its high level of political turnout and it regularly delivers some of the best turnout figures in India. This time was no different as voter turnout was over 75 per cent, which is better than the 66.7 per cent in the recent UK general election. Given these are just local elections and the logistics of running an election in Kerala are far tougher than in the UK, these turnout figures are very impressive.
Looking to the future, two questions for Keralan politics are can the LDF win back the state assembly in 2016, and will the BJP win their first seats?