Big battles to watch out for as ECI announces poll date

With Kerala set to go to the polls on April 6, the three major fronts in the State are in a political war-gaming mode for an Assembly election barely 40 days away.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has announced the poll dates for four States and a Union Territory on Friday.

The UDF will finalise its seat-sharing on March 3. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the victory was in sight. The LDF government’s corruption was the central electoral plank. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s interventions in Kerala will tip the scale in favour of the UDF, as witnessed in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

LDF convener A. Vijayaraghavan said 2021 would mark a watershed in Kerala’s political history. Voters would gift the ruling front a second innings in power sheerly on its stellar governance record. The LDF foresaw no issues in seat-sharing. It would campaign for development and welfarism and against communally divisive politics.

The BJP has braced itself for a tight-three cornered fight. It hoped to increase its vote share and emerge as a force that could tip the balance in the triangular contest.

Given BJP’s “Congress-free” India theme, the UDF feared cross-voting, if at all, could advantage the LDF. The BJP has also leaned heavily on saffron politics to attract Hindu votes. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Aditya Yoginath had flagged off the BJP’s campaign tour, Vijay Yatra, in Kasaragod recently.

The election season saw the LDF, UDF and NDA attempting to build bridges with communities. The coalitions also tried to sidestep thorny issues that could potentially mar their electoral prospects.

For one, the LDF reached out to the NSS by withdrawing cases against save Sabarimala campaigners. It promised consultation before any action on the women’s entry issue. The government engaged striking PSC rankers in talks and expedited their placement. It cancelled an exploratory deep-sea fishing agreement with a foreign firm after the pact caused disaffection among Church-backed traditional fishers. The LDF has also attempted to outdistance gold smuggling-related controversies.

Similarly, the UDF engaged Christian community leaders to steady their wavering base in Central and South Kerala. The Congress national leadership met Hindu and Muslim community leaders.

The BJP has avoided the fuel price hike and farmers’ agitation. It has also reached out to the Christian community on “love jihad” and rising Islamism. It has positioned itself as a powerful national alternative to the UDF and the LDF, and posited an aggressive Centre-supported economic modernisation plan for the State.

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