Where can BJP win in Kerala?

…. opens up the possibility of a tectonic realignment of alliance politics in Kerala with Muslim League switching to the Left in Malabar, and a possible vertical split in Congress party with a chunk of the “I” faction joining NDA. There was a time when nair vote in the state used to follow “I” faction of Congress party, but if nair vote starts shifting to BJP, very high chance “I” faction of congress will start shifting to NDA.

Question remains where BJP can win in Kerala.

While BJP claims the caste equation of BDJS + BJP will help catapult NDA as a prime mover in Kerala assembly, contours of Kerala politics since 1982 when the Left and United fronts came into being makes it very hard for a third front to come close to victory in a meaningful number of assembly constituencies. That said if the alliance can win anything upwards of 10 seats in the 140 member house, NDA will be in the drivers seat, mostly driving towards gridlock since neither left or united front can align with NDA.

Can BJP win 10 seats? At this point it looks highly unlikely. At this point the prospect of BJP winning even one seat looks ambitious, but possible. Since 1982 BJP has contested 850 seats in Kerala assembly elections and won 0. The party has come second in 3 constituencies Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, and Kasaragod and Manjeshwaram in Kasaragod. In Kasaragod and Manjeshwaram, BJP has an average vote share upwards of 30% since 1982.

BJP in Kerala

There are two goals BJP may be working towards in Kerala –

  1. Open account in Kerala – this has long been a pipe dream for the party and 2011 was expected to be the year when BJP gets its first MLA in Kerala. O.Rajagopal was expected to deliver Nemom for the party and open an account in Kerala, a feat stalwarts like K.G.Marar, Kerala Varma Raja and C.K.Padmanabhan couldn’t accomplish.

O.Rajagopal lost to CPIM candidate Sivankutty by a healthy margin, but the groundwork laid for O.Rajagopal’s 2011 campaign addressed the achilles heel of BJP politics in Thiruvananthapuram – the practice of BJP and RSS leaders selling (underperforming) their votes to help both United and Left front in the last minute.

This time around BJP will try to lock Nemom for O.Rajagopal, and go all in on Vattiyoorkavu for Kummanam Rajashekaran. BJP’s one off alliance with Congress’s V.S.Sivakumar has resulted in party fielding it’s weakest candidate, cricketer Sreesanth, against Sivakumar in Thiruvananthapuram Central, expecting a little help from their friend Sivakumar in adjoining Nemom for O. Rajagopal.

    2. Weaken Left in Kerala – Kerala may be the only state where Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress party may end up having a tacit alliance. While opening an account remains a short term win, BJP’s end game is to weaken the left in Kerala. Hence defeating the left and bringing United Front back to power is more likely the 2016 game plan for the party. In a state where elections are determined by 2-5% votes in general, BJP+BDJS will be able to tilt the balance in close to 30+ constituencies. Today left parties get the large majority of Hindu votes and inheriting the mandate of hindu populace is key to ending Bharatiya Janata Party’s miserable run in Kerala.

The “I” faction of Congress party, the trinity of  Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, K.Muraleedharan and Health Minister V.S.Sivakumar, are BJP’s closest allies in the Kerala’s Congress party. The “I” faction of Congress makes the rational argument that UDF is identified as promoting minority interests, and is losing ground among upper caste hindus, hence the need to be soft on hindutva forces in the state. Geography plays a key role in this argument since “I” faction of congress relies on hindu-muslim belts of travancore and malabar for their electoral wins, while “A” group led by Oommen Chandy relies on christian belts of central Kerala for most of their MLAs.

BDJS is contesting 37 seats as part of NDA. But the key here are 5 constituencies that Left has won in the past including Cherthala where BDJS is expected to try split the ezhava vote which traditionally favors the left. BJP’s play in Kerala this time is centered around the BDJS alliance and tacit understanding with “I” faction of Congress. While this strategy will help Oommen Chandy, who has refrained from attacking BJP through the run up to these elections, retain power, soft Hindutva stands have eventually decimated Congress party in many seats.

BJP win in Kerala with 10+ seats while far fetched opens up the possibility of a tectonic realignment of alliance politics with Muslim League switching to the Left in Malabar, and possible vertical split in Congress party with a chunk of the “I” faction joining NDA. There was a time when nair vote in the state used to follow “I” faction of Congress party, but if nair vote starts shifting to BJP considerably, very high chance “I” faction of congress will start shifting to NDA.

kerala opinion poll 2016

BJP’s Top 10

Inspite of the hoopla surrounding BJP’s possible chances in Aranmula, Kazhakootam, etc. it remains that BJP’s end game in 2016 is down to a handful of constituencies. Here are BJP’s best bets so far.

BJP in Kerala

Nemom (probability- HIGH) : Remains BJP’s best bet in 2016. Touting Nemom as O.Rajagopal’s last election, and with a little help from V.S.Sivakumar and Congress “I” faction, BJP hopes to topple V.Sivankutty. The Nemom – Thiruvananthapuram Central – Vattiyoorkavu dalliance between BJP and “I” faction of Congress may reap dividends for both parties, or may blow up like in the past where  Congress did not transfer the promised votes, a common complaint of RSS cadre in the city.

BJP polled 66% higher than their 3 decade average in Nemom last time, and with a median victory margin of 5.5%, the critical factor would be the amount of votes Surendran Pillai, the UDF candidate will poll. In 1996, P. Ashok Kumar had polled 23% of votes for BJP in the height of anti-incumbency against A.K.Antony government, but nowhere close to Rajagopal’s votes. UDF was a distant third in 2011. LDF has gone on the attack, directly attacking Rajagopal’s casteism, which parties have shied away from doing before.

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Kasaragod, Manjeshwaram, Kattakada and Vattiyoorkavu (probability- In Play) :  The two northern constituencies and the two deep south constituencies remain in play for BJP. BJP has star candidates in Manjeswaram and Vattiyoorkavu. K.Surendran has the most probability of a win in Manjeswaram, BJP’s strongest constituency in past three decades, a win that has evaded the likes of K.G. Marar and C.K. Padmanabhan. P.K. Krishnadas upped BJP’s vote share in Kattakada by a whopping 80% in 2011, and is back in the race this time. That said, a weak LDF candidate contributed to BJP’s share in 2011 and Kattakada may be a tough job to repeat.

Kummanam Rajashekaran Vattiyoorkavu

Kummanam Rajashekaran is contesting in one of the state’s strong Nair constituencies of Vattiyoorkavu. He has deep roots in the constituency since Nilackal controversy and it remains to be seen how his “green” interventions play out in this fairly upscale government employees populace. K.Muraleedharan, the true heir of the nair vote and CPM’s strong candidate T.N.Seema makes Vattiyoorkavu one the most interesting contests to watch in Kerala.

Thiruvananthapuram, Kunnamangalam, Palakkad and 132 other constituencies (probability- Low) : 

BJP always had a fair chance in Thiruvananthapuram Central. Hindu Munnani’s Kerala Varma Raja won 21% of the votes in 1987, but since then BJP’s B.K.Shekar experiment and rampant selling of votes has wasted the parties chances here. This time is no different. Sreesanth is seen as nothing but a scapegoat to ensure V.S.Sivakumar wins, and do BJP a few favors in Nemom that matters. C.K. is back in Kunnamangalam which has seen wafer thin margins in the past, and Shoba Surendran will try to build on Udaybhaskar’s 20% votes in Palakkad. BJP will not win in any of these places.

In summary BJP will try to win Nemom, Manjeswaram, Kasaragod, Kattakada and Vattiyoorkavu to open an account. And BJP will try to defeat the Left in the rest 135 constituencies.


Winners and losers: Kerala elections

In the past three and a half decades of alliance politics in Kerala, where elections were split evenly between United Democratic Front and Left Democratic Front, 82 political parties have tried their luck at winning the people’s mandate. Of this 82, only 32 parties were able to win a seat in the 140 member state assembly in the past seven elections since 1982.

Interestingly the party that has contested most number of seats in Kerala in last seven elections has not won even a single seat. That distinction goes to Bharatiya Janata Party which has contested a whopping 850 seats in past 35 years and lost every single one of them.

Indian Union Muslim League with it’s stranglehold on Malappuram district is the winningest party in electoral politics. Both Communist Parties have a winning percentage higher than 50%. Congress and CPM are neck and neck, but Congress is trending lower in winnability since the UDF sweep in 2001. Muslim league has a 68% winning ratio overall across seven elections, but more remarkable is the fact that IUML won 83% of the seats it contested in 2011, up from 33% win ratio in 2006 when CPM shook some of League’s forts and turned League badlands red. Kerala Congress Mani has won 50 of the 88 seats they contested.

Winning parties Kerala elections


BJP has the worst return on investment by far, and their performance could arguably be the worst performance by any party anywhere in the country.  2016 is BJP’s biggest bet so far. BSP tried their hand in Kerala during Mayawati’s expansive days, but came up a cropper.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 1.54.58 AM

Bonus: A quick glance at Kerala’s big parties and the number of seats they contest makes it clear the state is moving towards a four player system  – CPM, INC, CPI and IUML. As it is becoming more evident, any party other than these four do not have the scale to win across the state and in the next few elections will be asking more existential questions. Below is a table of contested seats for top five parties in Kerala.

Screen Shot 2016-04-004

Bellwether of Kerala Elections

Ever wondered which constituencies reflect the mood of the state. Ollur in Thrissur has predicted every election since 1982, sending MLAs to Trivandrum who were always part of the ruling alliance. Only constituency to do so. Thiruvananthapuram and Kottayam lead the way as truly bellwether districts, Thiruvananthapuram  because of it’s high political awareness and Kottayam because of it’s flexible Kerala Congress parties which usually switch alliances to stay in power.

We have looked at bellwether status from two fronts – ability to pick the correct winner in each of the 7 elections and ability to ride the 4 waves that occurred in the past 35 odd years of electoral politics. Around 13 constituencies have rode the wave and picked the winner with 90% or higher accuracy. 30 places have a 80% or higher accuracy of siding with the winner and riding a wave when they see one. Below chart shows constituencies and their United Front vs Left Front leaning.


Best Predictors of State
Constituency UF/LF %
Ollur 4-3 100%
Aranmula 5-2 93%
Kaduthuruthy 3-4 93%
Kanjirappally 5-2 93%
Kayamkulam 3-4 93%
Kodungallur 5-2 93%
Kollam 3-4 93%
Kottayam 3-4 93%
Kundara 3-4 93%
Muvattupuzha 5-2 93%
Peravoor 5-2 93%
Piravom 5-2 93%
Poonjar 3-4 93%
Aluva 6-1 86%
Kattakkada 4-3 86%
Koduvally 6-1 86%
Kozhikode North 2-5 86%
Manalur 6-1 86%
Pathanapuram 4-3 86%
Chathannur 3-4 80%
Chirayinkeezhu 3-4 80%
Kalpetta 5-2 80%
Kazhakoottam 5-2 80%
Kozhikode South 3-4 80%
Kunnathunad 5-2 80%
Palakkad 5-2 80%
Parassala 4-2 80%
Sulthanbathery 5-2 80%
Thiruvananthapuram 5-2 80%
Thodupuzha 5-2 80%


Districts data show no surprises, Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam decide which party comes to power, with unique ability to swing and sway based on the mood of the state, housing one 3rd of the places that have predicted winning alliance with a 90% accuracy. Malabar continues to try and make sense of what’s going on in rest of the state, without much success though.

Bellwether Districts
Const.           District
Chirayinkeezhu TVPM
Kazhakoottam TVPM
Parassala TVPM
Thiru..Puram TVPM
Kaduthuruthy KOTTAYAM
Kanjirappally KOTTAYAM
Kundara KOLLAM
Chathannur KOLLAM
Muvattupuzha ERANAKULAM
Kunnathunad ERANAKULAM
Kalpetta WAYANAD
Sulthanbathery WAYANAD
Kodungallur THRISSUR
Kozhikode South KOZHIKODE
Peravoor KANNUR
Thodupuzha IDUKKI
Kayamkulam ALAPPUZHA


And so who’s not so good at picking the right alliance. The not so bellwether brethren of Kerala assembly constituencies.

Not so Bellwether
Const.            District
Ottappalam PALAKKAD
Udumbanchola IDUKKI


The importance of being Ollur

Ollur is the Vigo county of recent elections to Kerala assembly. Ollur in Thrissur district has predicted the man in Cliff House 100% of the time. The only constituency in the state to do this. Ollur has chosen UDF in 4 elections and LDF in 3, and so did Kerala, and exactly in that order.

Winners in Ollur since 1982:
percentage margin of victory
1982 44 49
1987 48 46 4
1991 45 50 4
1996 47 43 5
2001 45 53
2006 50 44 5
2011 44 49 5