Left win big in Keralan state elections

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LDF supporters celebrate in Mallpuram. Photo: Abdul Latheef Naha from The Hindu website

The Keralan State election results are now in (Red Wave Trounces UDF) and there was a big win for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) led Left Democratic Front (LDF) coalition that beat the ruling Indian National Congress party led United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition.

The LDF won 91 out of the 140 seats.

The strong left-wing 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)

The Keralan state assembly has a tradition of flipping between the Communist Party and Congress Party so anything but a win for the LDF would have been a big setback for the left, but the scale of the LDF win was greater than anyone had expected.

A less palatable aspect of these elections was the one seat won by the bigoted Hindu nationalist BJP (who lead the Indian national government) that gave them their first inroad into the Keralan state assembly.

A single seat win may seem like small beer and nothing to be concerned about, but 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. This violent nature of the RSS was shockingly apparent in these elections, with an RSS bomb attack at an LDF victory rally in Dharmadam, killing one CPI-M worker and injuring several others.

Kerala is perhaps the most religiously diverse part of India and is well-known for being a tolerant place where people of different faiths rub along very happily. As a consequence, unlike most of the rest of India, the BJP with their divisive bigoted politics have generally had little traction in Kerala. So although a the win by the left is to be welcomed, a single seat win in such a tolerant place like Kerala has to give rise to some concern.

Edited to add: this initial post gave the reported 85 set for the LDF but it is now apparent the LDF grouping is 91 as there are five independents who have aligned themselves with the LDF along with the one seat won by the Communist Marist Party. So the LDF now have 91 out of 140 seats.

Private company wins election and will now run a council in Kerala

I blogged about the panchayat local elections recently.  One striking result is in the Kizhakambalam panchayat (similar to a parish council) of Ernakulam district in Kerala.

A Kerala-based corporate group Anna Kitex will govern the entire panchayat after winning the elections.

The Kitex Group fielded candidates in all 19 wards in the panchayat and won 17.

For more info go here and here.

So despite the overall win for the left in the various panchayat elections across Kerala this has to be of concern not just for the left, but for all democrats.  The opportunity for conflicts of interest are massive. 

Let’s hope this does not catch on.

Keralan panchayat local election results 2015 – good win for the left but..

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LDF celebrating their victory in Kollam on Saturday (photo from The Hindu newspaper website, photo taken by Suresh Kumar)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Kerala panchayat elections 2015 - 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 panchayat elections 2015 – biggest party on body

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?

Keralan backwaters – some photos

One thing any visitor to Kerala must do is got for a trip down the backwaters. The backwaters are a chain of interconnected lagoons, lakes, canals and rivers that snake through nearly half of Kerala. Backwaters boat rides can be a few hours, overnight on a houseboat, or even a few days.

The scenery is stunning and the glimpse into village life is fascinating. I had a day long trip on a human powered boat (much quieter than boats with engines) it was one of the most relaxing ways I’ve ever spent a day – a natural form of Valium.

Click on a picture to enlarge it and scroll through the rest in full frame.