| Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addresses an election campaign rally in Kerala Photo Pinarayi VijayanFacebook | MR Online Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addresses an election campaign rally in Kerala. (Photo: Pinarayi Vijayan/Facebook)

The Opposition “Emocracy” Exposed: Kerala’s Landmark Left Victory

The landslide victory of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the Indian state of Kerala in April 2021 is a historic achievement on three levels. (1) For the first time since the formation of the state, a sitting government in Kerala has been elected for a second consecutive term. (2) Not only has the LDF increased its tally from 91 to 99 out of 140 seats, and its difference with the United Democratic Front (UDF) by around 6 percent, but it has also won the lone Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seat in the assembly, as predicted. In 2016, the vote share of the LDF was 43.48 percent, which grew to 45.43 percent in 2021, a gain of around 2 percentage points. The UDF also increased its representation, but only marginally, by 0.66 percentage points, from 38.81 percent to 39.47 percent. The vote share of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA)—the ruling Hindu nationalist government in India—went down in Kerala, from around 14.96 percent in 2016 to around 12.36 percent in 2021, with both the UDF and the LDF benefiting from this. Compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the LDF has now earned 10.73 percentage points more in its favor, a continuation of its impressive victory in local elections held in December 2020. The BJP, its central government, Congress, the Muslim League, and other right-wing forces have moved together to overthrow the government led by Pinarayi Vijayan, which took office in 2016, and to prevent the LDF from coming to power in this year’s elections. The LDF was able to defeat the efforts of such forces for the first time in Kerala. (3) Kerala’s left front has won a decisive victory against the backdrop of the demise of the left in West Bengal and Tripura—both of which had a long history of left rule, for over three decades—with the left losing power in these states in 2011 and 2018 respectively. Had the left lost in Kerala as well, it would have signified the end of the parliamentary left in India. Moreover, the victory of the LDF in Kerala has a temporal significance in the global political landscape.

This is also a culmination of the legacy of the left government in the state since 1957. In India, left forces came to power for the first time in Kerala. The Communist government headed by E. M. S. Namboodiripad, popularly known simply as EMS, came to power in 1957. The policy approaches of the central and state governments in India at that point were all designed in the interests of the bourgeois-landlord class. The EMS-led Communist government adopted fundamentally different policies. It emphasized the interests of the vast majority of society, the poor and the common people. It initiated a land reform process that sought to uproot caste-landlord-colonial hegemony. New approaches to education and health care in the public sector were adopted.1 This victory has brought to the fore multiple points: people will vote for development; rumor mongering based on lies will not get subscribers; a secular democratic alternative is the way forward; scientific temper is key; transparent governance, and people-oriented, welfare/social safety policies are the way forward. “The election result is also a reminder that the people will be with those who are willing to work for them. The people of Kerala will not be willing to stand with it if they try to implement their wishes by injecting caste and communal sentiments,” the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan pointed out immediately after assuming office. This victory not only gives an impetus to alternate economic and social policies of the state government, but will also set a precedent for other Indian states to follow a similar path. It can also have a significant global impact.

What helped the LDF make history could be explained at many levels: the tactical lines the LDF adopted for broadening the electoral front; the social and political commitment of the state in terms of promise and practice, especially during the many crises it managed during its term; the rational approach adopted by the LDF to methodically dismantle the manufactured “emocracy”—a culture of “feelings matter more than reason”—that characterized the opposition election campaign.2 The opposition politics as played out in Kerala during the election were more “opposition emocracy” than democracy per se, failing the test of factual reality as proposed and executed by the left in terms of welfare measures and state-led development. At the same time, it is worth exploring the authenticity of some of the claims made by the opposition and how these claims were overshadowed by the larger aura of the left and its corrective modes of governance. The everyday lived experience of common people in relation to the state and its ideology is what shaped their politics, not the agenda pursued by sectarian interests. The LDF did not stop at that. Last but not the least, the unwavering and charismatic leadership of the LDF by Pinarayi Vijayan, fondly called the “Captain,” helped steer the LDF to an unprecedented consecutive second term in the Kerala Assembly. It went ahead and formed a new cabinet with an entirely new set of faces—another first since 1957, to the surprise of many.

Master Strategy, Ideology, Leadership

The tactical lines adopted by the left parties yielded immense benefits. The tactical lines of the leading partners, preexisting socio-cultural factors, how these factors became constituting elements of new alliances, and the nature of the competing alliances all influenced the outcome of the elections. Although regarded with much skepticism all around, the firm decision taken by both the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), the two dominant partners of the LDF, to not field any candidate who had completed two consecutive terms in the assembly—which meant that around three dozen senior members and stalwarts of the Legislative Assembly, including eight ministers, were kept out of the race—clearly paid off. This paved the way for not only a generational shift in legislative representation, but also enabled senior members to actively participate in the LDF campaign on behalf of newcomers, with adequate representation across castes and communities, a tactical approach that helped shift the electoral mood.

But it was not the only tactical approach that worked. More importantly, it was the broadening of the LDF base by drawing parties, such as the Indian National League, Loktantrik Janata Dal, and the Kerala Congress (Mani), into its fold that helped secure the left victory. Knowing well that decisive political issues in elections are influenced by minorities—Muslims and Christians—and how parties respond to them, the LDF made sure to incorporate them. In this regard, it was the Kerala Congress (M), a split from the Kerala Congress, that made the crucial difference, as it represented the relatively wealthy and traditionally right-wing Syrian Christian population. Though the party chairman, Jose K. Mani, lost the Pala constituency (one of Kerala’s state legislative assembly constituencies), his party gained five of the twelve contested seats. The faction that remained within the UDF, the Kerala Congress (J), won only two out of ten seats. Altogether, it was the LDF that benefited the most from tactical alliances, particularly in central Travancore. While it is true that the LDF’s caste Hindu voting base shrunk this time around, it is very likely to have been offset by an expansion of its traditional non-upper caste base—the Ezhavas, the Dalits, and Adivasis across vulnerable social sections (agricultural and industrial workers, small peasants, women) and the middle class. The LDF also succeeded in politically incorporating a section of Christian and Muslim minorities. Overall, Kerala’s wider society shifted toward a more secular approach, defeating the BJP in the two places where BJP state chief K. Surendran ran for election: Manjeshwaram in Kasaragod district and Konni in Pathanamthitta district. Having lost both Konni and Manjeshwaram to the LDF and UDF, respectively, it is clear that the Hindutva tool kit on which the BJP relied—including citizenship, Sabarimala, and “love jihad” laws—failed.3

The political engineering orchestrated by the LDF at multiple levels was further bolstered by its ideological positions on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the BJP government and the Brahmanical resurgence at the otherwise secular Sabarimala Temple.4 A few examples are noteworthy. The UDF opposition joined the LDF in challenging the BJP-led CAA, even passing an anti-CAA resolution in the state assembly in December 2019, arguing that it ran counter to the secular Indian constitution. Nevertheless, the Congress UDF parted ways with the LDF when it came to the question of Sabarimala by adopting a soft pan-Hindutva line. Amid the Sabarimala chaos initiated by conservative Hindu forces, the LDF, in order to express its commitment to gender justice, organized the historic 620-kilometer-long Vanitha Mathil (Women’s Wall of Enlightenment) on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2019, which spanned from the northern part of Kerala to the south. On Republic Day 2020, the LDF also initiated a similar formation, the great Human Wall of Opposition against the CAA, in which women and children across religious communities also participated.

If protecting secularism and the fundamental rights of minorities as a whole, particularly that of Muslims in the country, is what led the LDF to wage a struggle against the CAA, the Sabarimala case, which aimed to protect the fundamental rights of women, was overshadowed by the question of Hindu faith in Congress and the BJP. Muslim votes should have been consolidated by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and thus benefited the UDF, as its alliance partner, but evidence suggests that a significant section of Muslims, particularly youth and women, voted for the LDF as they felt more compelled by their emancipatory politics than with the soft Hindutva of Congress. In this process, the IUML lost seats—it won only fifteen of the twenty-seven seats it contested, and its vote share declined from 8.27 percent in 2016 to 7.40 percent in 2021 (as did the UDF’s)—allowing the LDF to widen its electoral victory (from 4.67 percent in the 2016 election to its current 5.96 percent). This political shift not only had the effect of broadening the LDF’s base of support, but it also helped win over fresh swathes of the populace.

Promise and Practice: Toward the “LDF for Sure” slogan

What societal responses emerged to defend people’s livelihoods and how effective were they? The left has long opted for a social-democratic approach to advancing the welfare of the people, a critical dimension of its ideological stance. Driven by the values of egalitarianism, the left has strengthened its image of a redistributive state as practiced through welfare measures and social security networks. While democratic politics have always been marred by procrastination and a failure to deliver on promises, the left in Kerala has been able to break the pattern by fulfilling 580 of the 600 promises it made in its 2016 election manifesto. As the re-elected Pinarayi Vijayan reiterates in his public speeches, “it is only those that can be implemented that will be said, and those that have been said will be implemented,” leaving no room for ambiguity in the government’s plans once back in power. This led to the catchy slogan “LDF for Sure” and the manifesto lists 900 new items for the 2021 election—in addition to the continuation of the projects undertaken during the previous government. The electorate have already begun to enjoy the benefits of the social security and welfare measures, giving them little reason to doubt the credibility of the government.

The competence and confidence with which the LDF government has dealt with the series of crises facing Kerala—namely, the natural disasters of Ockhi (2017) and the two floods of 2018 and 2019; the Nipah virus (2018); and the COVID-19 pandemic—have instilled a sense of safety and security in the people. Not even the fiercest critic of the LDF would accuse it of abandoning the people, as is often heard in developed countries such as the United States during Hurricane Katrina or the current COVID-19 pandemic in Delhi. The Kerala government was one of the first in India to offer a relief and revival package, worth ₹20,000 crores, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and took care of the regular payments toward increased pensions, health, hunger-free days (including for migrant laborers in the state) through community kitchens and grocery kits delivered to doorsteps—all jointly organized by the local bodies, Kudumbashree, the Civil Supplies Department, and volunteers. The government made its presence felt in every household, irrespective of income, and gave the public a sense of being looked after. While the reports from outside Kerala focused on the care crisis, Kerala became a floating signifier of a moral economy and society, lauded for its distinctive COVID-19 containment and vaccine program.

The advancement of development to meet people’s needs, such as the building of many houses (both as individual units and as housing complexes, built as part of the LIFE project), has also helped ensure that marginalized social sectors, including Dalits, poor communities, and the Adivasis/Indigenous population, were allocated their due share. The impressive scale of technological infrastructure, supplementing the social development for which the state is already known, began to transform the economy and make a visible change throughout the state. This took various forms, including the improvement of information technology infrastructures, with an increase in software export, built-up space, and employment; and massive investments in roads, electric vehicles, inland water projects, and so on—partly through the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB).

The Gender Game: “Opposition Emocracy” Exposed

Both the opposition coalition forces—the Congress-led UDF and the BJP-led NDA—repeated on varying occasions that the Sabarimala fiasco, in which women of menstrual age were denied entry into the Sabarimala Temple, would be the issue to bring down the LDF. These forces as well as the mainstream press and media were largely successful in creating this impression, but the election outcome clearly disproved the prediction.

In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that denying entry to the Hindu temple to women of childbearing age constituted discrimination. In November 2019, following mass protests and dozens of review petitions challenging the court’s 2018 landmark judgement, a five-judge bench passed the matter onto a larger bench, without staying its earlier order. Though the furor over Sabarimala had settled by the time the elections came around, the opposition forces, the Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization of the Sangh Parivar, the upper-caste based Nair Service Society, and other Hindu entities reopened the battle over Sabarimala when the devaswom (socio-religious trusts whose members are nominated by government and community to oversee Hindu temples and their assets) minister Kadakampally Surendran purportedly expressed regret over the events and the chaos that followed the September 2018 verdict. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala insisted that the government withdraw its petition in full and also “apologize” publicly for its past “mistakes” in accepting the Supreme Court verdict and trying to implement it in the first place.

Rather than implementing the 2018 verdict, the government has decided to wait until the Supreme Court’s final ruling, since the issue has been passed to a larger bench. A few senior judges themselves opined that the government should seek “broad-based consultations” to meet “the genuine concerns of all segments of the community.” However, the opposition charged the LDF with “backtracking,” with the ulterior motive of placating the caste Hindus and bringing them under its banner, which however failed to yield any benefits. In fact, it had the effect of alienating the other two traditional voting bases of Congress: Muslims and Christians. While Muslim youth were otherwise attracted to the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of the CPI(M), progressive sectors were also attracted to the LDF’s consistent countermovement against Hindutva projects such as Sabarimala and the CAA. This led not only to the erosion of the IUML’s voting base, but also simultaneously weakened the potential of the IUML in challenging exclusionary Hindutva projects nationwide. Muslim minorities increasingly felt that Kerala’s left forces could effectively challenge the Hindutva projects. This shift is not expected to be permanent, as evident in the 2016 Lok Sabha polls, when minorities generally refused to support the left and supported Congress instead. This year’s tactical shifting of voting bases, as played out by the minorities that helped the LDF to retain power, and how long the trend continues will depend on how consistent the LDF is in its position and what alternative alliances take place at the national level.

Though one expected BJP strategist and home minister Amit Shah to highlight the achievements of the Modi government during his electoral campaign in Kerala, even he struggled to do so, as every single central government policy was diametrically opposed to Kerala’s approach. Instead, he had to resort to threatening Kerala with the deployment of central investigation agencies while invoking the BJP’s original Hindutva agenda by fanning the flames of the Sabarimala fire—stating that Sabarimala was not just a temple, but the Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace of Rama) of the Indian south.5 While the struggle for faith is acceptable to the average Malayali Hindu, including those who identify with the left political parties, it is heartening to note that they have rejected the BJP’s divisive practices to such an extent that the NDA not only lost its lone seat in the assembly, but also saw its overall vote share shrink from around 15 percent to around 12 percent. Not even Prime Minister Modi’s frequent campaign visits to Kerala were enough to persuade the electorate to turn against the left government.

Developmentalism and Politics: Opposition’s Allegations

A series of controversies were started by the opposition, beginning with accusing the government of transferring confidential health data of people in COVID-19 quarantine to pharmaceutical companies through Sprinklr, a software company owned by an overseas Malayali in the United States, without individuals’ consent. The opposition challenged the validity of the arrangement, arguing that the state-owned Centre for Development of Imaging Technology could have also stored the data. The opposition alleged that the government was permitting the commercialization of confidential health data with far-reaching consequences, hoping that the allegations would electorally benefit them, as the Kerala chief minister is also head of the state’s information technology mission that arranged and oversaw the data deal. Emerging public opinion was by and large against the arrangements, despite the data remaining in the hands of the state government, though stored in Sprinklr software. In turn, the government was nimble enough to withdraw from the arrangement and transfer the data to the state-owned Centre for Development of Imaging Technology.

As the elections drew closer, however, fresh allegations were lined up by the opposition, one after the other. Among them was the huge gold-smuggling controversy. Both the UDF and BJP had their own separate reasons for mobilizing public opinion against the government. (1) The gold was discovered in diplomatic cargo, which is exempt from routine customs clearance. (2) Said cargo was addressed to the United Arab Emirates consulate in the state capital. (3) Those allegedly involved in the gold smuggling were thought to have links to senior government officials and politicians, including the principal secretary to the chief minister, who was already a controversial bureaucrat in the Sprinklr deal. Congress blamed the BJP and the state government for their negligence and involvement of the chief minister’s office, respectively. The BJP then further embroiled the chief minister’s office in the gold-smuggling controversy, claiming that a woman alleged to have been involved was also employed by the principal secretary in a key post. Media played along with the opposition and public opinion turned against the government.

The LDF asserted that any lapse in the customs procedures at the airport was attributable to the NDA government, while also employing modern governance strategy to counter the allegations. The government worked quickly to bring the perpetrators and their accomplices to justice, requesting the central government to take up the matter (as it fell under its purview), and suspending the principal secretary. Rather than acknowledging the steps taken by the government, the opposition brought the struggle to the streets, often in violation of COVID-19 protocols, undermining the left government’s management of the situation.

The deep-sea trawling controversy is seen as another obstacle to the LDF’s regaining of power. In a rare instance, the opposition was able to persuade the public that the state had not adequately protected the rights of fisherfolk, and accused the left of attempting to “sell off all marine wealth” to a U.S. firm, in contradiction with fishery policies. The government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian subsidiary of the New York-based EMCC Global Consortium, followed by allotting lands for fish processing, manufacturing deep-sea fishing vessels, and developing harbors. The deal sparked protests, including a coastal hartal (strike) and dissent from the Latin Catholic Church.

Though the Industries Department negotiated and finalized the memorandum of understanding, the government was in trouble by and large due to the lack of coordination of various departments and agencies, despite the money and land resources poured into the project, and the contention of fisherfolk’s rights, which are otherwise protected by the state’s fishery policy. The left fishery policy is different from the federal government’s deep-sea fishing and corporate-driven blue economy policy, which generally permits deep-sea trawling by foreign companies—in contrast to the left, which allows trawling only by traditional fisherfolk through cooperatives. But the issues raised by the opposition would not have gained traction had the state departments remained vigilant enough to engage the EMCC and reject their proposals, especially since deep-sea trawling is under the purview of the central government. However, the timely response of the LDF government, which withdrew from the memorandum of understanding, helped save the government from too much loss of trust. Despite the Kerala minister for fisheries, Mercykutty Amma, being defeated in the election, this was overall due more to the consolidation of Hindu votes driven by the NDA and, contrary to expectations, the LDF did not lose any significant coastal seats in the assembly.

At times, opposition forces put political strategies to shame. In one instance, the BJP state president even stated that they needed only thirty-five seats to form a government in Kerala, despite the requirement being seventy-one seats, leading the chief minister to state that Congress had become the fixed guarantee of the BJP.6 The secret alliances between the UDF and BJP are other salient examples. BJP veterans themselves, like the late K. G. Marar in reference to the 1991 election and the sole member of the legislature today O. Rajagopal, have openly admitted to deals and alliances between the BJP and the Congress-IUML as a strategy to defeat the Kerala communists, the only ideological and practical alternative in India. In the 2021 election, too, it was often repeated that the UDF managed to win seats because it traded votes with the BJP. Otherwise, the UDF would have been hit much harder. While it is true that the reduction in votes for the NDA by 2.6 percent benefited the UDF, it is also true that a share of this loss went to the LDF. Nevertheless, the LDF cannot take all the credit for defeating former BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan in Nemom, the lone seat in the state assembly, dealing a blow to Hindu revivalism. The UDF also attracted votes away from the BJP by strategically fielding K. Muraleedharan, who had the contextual support of the community-based Nair Service Society.

The allegations against the KIIFB regarding resources for developmental projects, as per the 1999 KIIFB Act, also turned out to be false. The opposition claimed that the KIIFB did not have the authority to issue Masala bonds—rupee-denominated bonds issued outside India by Indian entities—and that the comptroller and auditor general also objected. The government asserted that the KIIFB, in its 2016 formulation, was a corporate entity and hence had the power to mobilize resources for developmental projects, including issuing masala bonds, sanctioned by the Reserve Bank of India. Voters appeared to ignore the argument that Kerala had already borrowed large funds at high interest rates, and thus that the debt would become unsustainable, putting faith in the state’s clarification that: (1) the debt to GDP ratio of Kerala (around 31 percent) is much lower than many other states in India, including the Congress-led Punjab (40.3 percent) and BJP-led Uttar Pradesh (34 percent); (2) debt is sustainable as long as there is no debt overhang in the overall economy; and (3) the funds raised go to the state’s otherwise lagging infrastructure projects, improving the quality of social development and intergenerational living conditions.7

The KIIFB was also criticized by the union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman during her election campaign for BJP candidacy in the state. The LDF, particularly the then finance minister Thomas Isaac, and the chief minister challenged this as a move aimed at not only “destroying” the KIIFB as an institution, but also at torpedoing the state’s developmental agenda, including emerging knowledge economy initiatives. It was the misuse of federal sovereign power over the state and the unfavorable center-state relations that contributed to the state opting for off-budget borrowings. Not only has the KIIFB pledged future revenues for budgetary expenses, as the loans would be serviced by a share of motor vehicle and petroleum taxes, but the infrastructure investments would also benefit future generations. Furthermore, forfeiting goods and services taxes should be understood as states’ losses of economic sovereignty, politically reclaimed through the KIIFB.

The opposition further accused the government of engaging in clandestine deals with the conglomerate company Adani Group, as it opposed its takeover of the Trivandrum International Airport despite supporting its solar power purchase. But the agreement was not between the Kerala State Electricity Board and Adani, it was with the Solar Energy Corporation of India, a public-sector undertaking that facilitates the supply of power through companies, involving international bidding processes. No government could foresee who exactly would end up the successful bidder. Of the three companies selected by the Solar Energy Corporation of India, Adani Green Energy is the only one that commenced supplying power, allotted by the Solar Energy Corporation of India, and bought and distributed by the Kerala State Electricity Board. Another opposition allegation, that the government buys power from Adani at a higher cost, was also false. Kerala is also bound to comply with the Indian government’s renewable purchase obligations, which mandate that all electricity distribution licensees should purchase or produce a minimum specified quantity of their requirements from renewable energy sources. Noncompliance with the obligations is not penalized, but violates the state’s avowed position on solar power. The case of Kerala’s Cochin International Airport was different: the government has already proved that it could run airports more efficiently and profitably.8

Exposing “opposition emocracy” was not confined to the Sabarimala controversy or “love jihad” laws—on the latter, BJP stalwart and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adithyanadh and BJP state chief K. Surendran attempted to stir up public opinion, but were dismissed by left leaders. The material dimensions of the state’s everyday welfare efforts were also scrutinized. For instance, the opposition continued to accuse the left government of denying the poor the right to more than one pension and of generally keeping the public in the dark regarding pension plans. In reality, for the first time in the history of the country, a government increased welfare pensions seven times in five years and more than doubled the pension amount during its tenure. Not only that, but accumulated arrears were also paid and delivery mechanisms strengthened through direct electronic transfers into bank accounts.

In one of its most recent advertising campaigns just before the election, the UDF claimed that that it would revive the Karunya Health Scheme, falsely implying that the scheme no longer exists. In fact, the state government has maintained the Karunya Benevolent Fund, state financial assistance for poor people suffering from acute ailments like cancer, hemophilia, and kidney and heart diseases. The current government also further funded the scheme and all processes were transferred from manual to information technology-based platforms. At the same time, the opposition also earned the name “annam mudakki” (deniers of basic subsistence) when its leader demanded that rice distribution in schools stop until the elections were over, and instructed the Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs to stall distribution of Vishu festival kits, social security pensions, and meal kits, all in the name of election protocols, ignoring the fact these measures had already been announced and were not in violation of the Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates. Even the High Court reprimanded the opposition.

All these occurrences led voters to favor the LDF, which was clearly reflected in the pre-poll and post-poll surveys run by the media. As Kanam Rajendran, the state secretary of the CPI, rightly pointed out, both the opposition parties had lost the moral ground to seek the people’s mandate. Kerala’s alternative to the BJP government’s neoliberal economic policies does more than protect the state from the negative effects of globalization. The LDF’s landmark victory reinforces that Kerala “upholds a holistic leftist model amidst crony capitalism.” The Kerala model holds significant promise for India’s future.9

The charismatic CPI(M) leadership of Pinarayi Vijayan—an Ezhava/Thiyya from Malabar with a working-class background, with seventeen years of experience as party state leader—was very clearly skilled in building the party, a superb executioner of tasks, and a successful mediator of difficult situations as chief minister. This was evident in how he dealt with crisis after a crisis, such as the Kerala floods and the COVID-19 pandemic, the latter along with K. K. Shailaja, the then public health minister.10 I cannot think of any other example of a head of state or country engaging with the public through an almost daily media roundup during societal crises, as Vijayan did during the floods and pandemic and continues to this day. The LDF victory was primarily due to the commendable achievements of Kerala’s left government and democratic leadership, as it was able to clearly deliver on its promises, and partly due to the moral backsliding of the opposition itself. There are those who argue that the conditions of the pandemic prevented the opposition from damaging the LDF’s popularity and reputation through street protests, but the contention is weak. To start, not all street protests can be considered public or popular, given that they are often fueled by sectarian interests, as was the case in Kerala recently. Street protests should not only be seen in their political context, but also in their temporality and “moral conviction.” The street protests staged by the UDF deliberately undermined the left government’s preventative lockdown. Not only that, but the UDF’s sole demand was the resignation of the chief minister, speaker of the legislative assembly, or the minister of education, further undermining the left governance. Such demands were rejected and the left government was voted into power for an unprecedented second time, more powerful than before.

Concluding Remarks

Beneath the surface of Kerala’s tidal left wave flowed several currents. The combination of electoral strategy, innovative policy implementations, and firm ideological positions on a whole series of issues formed a broad strategy that won over the electorate. In the end, what most influenced the electoral outcome were the issues that affected people’s everyday lives. Of course, neither this second coming to power nor its electoral majority exempt the LDF from challenges in the coming years. The state will have to resolve its increasing debts and deficits, rising unemployment, coordination deficits in governance, and climate change vulnerabilities, to name a few—all of which are only exacerbated by the repercussions of the pandemic. Hard decisions and continued commitments to ethical and egalitarian development leave the left with no other option but to implement measures to ensure that the state, on all fronts, dismantles spaces of exclusion and divisiveness. Any failure in this respect might provide the opposition with an opportunity to stage a comeback in the next state elections and reverse the notion of the opposition as an eternal government-in-waiting. No matter how the opposition is defeated, in the reactionary context of the Sabarimala issue and anti-Muslim “love jihad” laws, it is equally important to remain vigilant of Hindutva communal forces, which may come back into prominence in varying forms. Given that a faction of the Christian minority is allied with the ruling left and an increasing number of Muslim youths are attracted to leftist ideologies, we can only wait and see how Hindutva cultural politics will play out in Kerala. It would be incredibly dangerous to have a federal government controlled by the BJP that promoted Hindutva by polarizing minority votes—in this case, of Christians—to their favor. Only the left can transverse solidarities and remain the genuine alternative.

More than just a sign of hope (though this is not to be diminished or underestimated), the LDF victory in Kerala could have a significant impact in reviving left movements in India—particularly in West Bengal and Tripura.

The author would like to thank Bipin Chandran for his valuable comments on an earlier draft.


  1. C. Achutha Menon, of the Communist Party of India, took up these reforms in the 1970s with the support Congress. However, the Communist Party of India suffered a setback over supporting Indira Gandhi’s national emergency (June 1975–March 1977) and the way it dealt with Maoist Naxalites on the state level. Over the years, the Left Democratic Front held power in the state legislature under E. K. Nayanar (1980–81, 1987–91, 1996–2001), V. S. Achuthanandan (2006–11), and Pinarayi Vijayan (2016–present), alternating patterns with the United Democratic Front.
  2. Niall Ferguson, “Feeling Beats Truth in Our Indignant ‘Emocracy,’” The Times, January 27, 2019.
  3. “Love jihad” conspiracy theories are based on the deeply Islamophobic idea that Muslims lure and entice Hindus (and Christians) into Islam by feigning love and marriage. Despite earlier claims by Hindu organizations, it was K. Surendran who first tried to court Christian voters by pandering to their commonalities as non-Muslims in Pathanamthitta, where the Sabarimala Temple lies and his constituency is located. See “Christians, Hindus Should Stay United and Vote to Tackle ‘Love Jihad’: Kerala BJP Chief,” News Minute, March 4, 2021.
    The public, however, did not give him either of the seats for which he ran. In Kerala, as elsewhere in India, the BJP had also promised to enact laws dealing with “love jihad” as part of its campaign promises, and thus played a divisive game within a state known for its communal harmony—which backfired.
  4. Regarding the issues involved and the Kerala government’s protest against the CAA, see “Reimagining Citizenship: The Politics of India’s Amended Citizenship Laws” section in PS: Political Science & Politics 54, no. 4 (2021). See also Balu Sunilraj and Sarath Sasikumar, “Kerala Elections 2021: Mandate for Social Egalitarianism and Deepening Left Democratic Alternative,” Economic & Political Weekly 56, no. 22 (2021).
  5. Ram Janmabhoomi is the site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, where the Muslim mosque Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindutva nationalists in 1992, who claimed that it was originally the birthplace of the Hindu deity Rama. As part of the dispute settlement, on November 9, 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the land to be handed over to a trust to build the Hindu temple and that more than two hectares of land be given to the Sunni Waqf Board to build a mosque in compensation.
  6. “Cong. Is BJP’s Fixed Deposit: Pinarayi,” The Hindu, March 12, 2021.
  7. Reserve Bank of India, State Finances: A Study of Budgets (Mumbai: Reserve Bank of India, 2020).
  8. K. Ravi Raman, “Thiruvananthapuram Airport Controversy: Why Is Government’s Stance Crucial?,” Economic & Political Weekly 56, no. 14 (April 3, 2021).
  9. Kanam Rajendran, “The Kerala Model Will Lead India One Day,” New Indian Express, May 19, 2021.
  10. K. Ravi Raman, “Ecospatiality: Transforming Kerala’s Post-Flood ‘Riskscapes,’” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 13, no. 2 (July 2020): 319–41.