Saturday, May 23, 2009

Trying to analyze Kerala politics

Its majorly middle class population and strong politicization makes Kerala's political dynamics different from the National one. Kerala, with only 13% of people below poverty line, or half of national average (at 26%) (NSSO statistics), and with a huge middle class (nearly 70% - cant find source now), is having only less than 30% (and may be even about 15%) of its people directly impacted by the welfare schemes of the government. And majority of these poor people have traditionally been supporters of the Left Democratic Front (LDF - the communists' alliance). So it is very tough to come to power by means of just running welfare schemes for the poorest of poor- there are no major "swing votes" here - and even among the few present here it is tough for people to filter out state government welfare schemes from central government schemes so as to reward the respective governments through the ballot box.

Among the rest of the population - the vast majority - mainly middle class or above - a majority should be traditional UDF (Congress, League, KC) supporters (since LDF should be sweeping the poorest's votes), and a minority will be LDF supporters (traditionally). This is the result of historical factors, social struggles, religion and caste and to some extend the presence of sister organizations of these political parties, and mainly that of CPI(M)- like DYFI, CITU and SFI. The remaining few (quite small in percentage - 4-5% of total population, perhaps) in the middle class, not too affiliated with either combinations, rather apolitical, but who do vote , always vote against the current state government.

This is because, every single government in the state (like elsewhere) is not free from scandals: corruption allegations, violence, nepotism, factionalism and such fights, allying with goondas or corrupt businessmen or politicians, sexual harassment charges, communal problems etc etc. This is ensured by not only by the actions of the party in power, but also the active state of politics in the state, with a strong opposition party and energetic youth movements (like DYFI and SFI), along with a media hungry for scandals (rightly so) and above all a population for which political discussions and news is a national past time - who wouldn't just let the government get away with it. At the end of half of a government's term in office, the government will be having a poor name. Everyone (mainly from the apolitical middle class I spoke off) will become critics of the government, and the inevitable will happen. Rolling out doles for the poor - whatever good it does to them - alone will not win elections. And the condition of this "normally apolitical-yet voting-middle class" is such that, some good things affecting them done by the government (say: improving roads, or electric supply) will be offset by their morality and righteousness ("this government has been horribly corrupt, and I should protest by voting", etc).

Hence, it is perhaps impossible to win a consecutive term in Kerala, unless you have some kind of a wave(national, like the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, or local, like what happened in Manjeri in 2004) (and unless you manage without any scandals, quite impossible). If this is to be proved wrong, you must reverse the trend with the "normally apolitical-yet voting-middle class", by getting into their moral good books. Like how VS (current CM) is doing now: even when the LDF was trounced in the election (the result of a simple 3-4 % difference in vote percentages resulted in 16-4 in LS terms and 100-40 in assembly terms), VS beat the UDF's CM candidate and current Leader of Opposition, Oommen Chandy by more than 10 percentage points (CSDS survey). VS achieved this by showing up as a crusader against all forms of corruption and nepotism, not stopping even against his own party's all powerful secretary, even by putting into risk his own stature and future in the party. The swing votes (the apolitical few among the vast middle class) need scapegoats, if anti-incumbency is to be beaten. Unless of course the government becomes too good and comes out with no major scandal.

Update: There must be some swing votes between Congress and BJP, mainly in upper caste Hindus, which wont go to the Left. This goes to the Congress when Congress is in the opposition (and the ruling Left Front is dirtied by various scandals, and these few upper caste voters want to defeat the Left and bring back the Congress), and to BJP when Congress is in power.

There will certainly be much more to the political dynamics of Kerala, especially local factors and candidatures, however I feel the overall mandate is largely the result of the above phenomenon.

Update: I feel that there is a dangerous message in this post: that there is no need to care for the poor in Kerala to win elections. It is easy to see that it is my detachment with politics for the poor is what that allowed me to write this. What I wrote may be right or wrong, but this detachment makes a difference between how the middle class and the poor see politics. If I was more sensitive about this when I wrote this, may be I would have done a lot more homework.

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