Undaunted by a slew of exit polls that hinted at a devastating defeat for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala in the general election, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the ruling coalition was poised to win all but two Lok Sabha seats in the state. Speaking to Manorama ahead of the counting day, he said that the only factor that could upset the Left’s prospects was a possible vote trade by the BJP.
Exit polls have thrown their weight behind the United Democratic Front (UDF). The CPM still claims that the LDF would win 18 seats.
We are not taking exit polls seriously. Some agencies had predicted that the LDF would lose the Chengannur assembly bypoll. The party state committee estimated that we could win 18 seats, based on the analyses by workers from the polling booth level. We could win between 11 and 18 seats. Either way, we will win more than the eight seats we won in 2014.
If we were to lose more, that would only mean that the BJP has traded their votes. If the BJP keeps their votes, the Left will gain. We have reasons to doubt that the BJP has diverted their votes to the UDF at some places.
Does that mean that you are not so sure of repeating your performance in 2004?
When we won 18 seats in 2004, the BJP polled up to 12 percent of the votes. BJP workers voted for the party because they were hopeful of coming back to power at the centre. When the BJP vote share shrank to 6 percent in 2009, the LDF won only four seats. When the BJP increased its vote share to 11 percent in 2014, the LDF won eight seats.
The Left kept gaining when the BJP increased its vote share in the latest assembly election. The BJP could get up to 18 percent votes this time if they manage to hold on to their base.
So you are counting on the assembly election pattern in which the Left retained its vote base while the UDF and the BJP votes got scattered?
Yes. We will retain our vote base. Whatever the BJP gains will be from the UDF vote base.
You said that you will win 18 seats. Do you have no hope on Malappuram and Wayanad?
I do not want to say that now. Let us wait for the votes to be counted. If I reveal the names of the two losing seats, do you think any workers would care to go to the counting centres?
The Congress claims that its front would win all 20 seats.
The Congress has to say such things to nudge its workers to the counting centres. (Then Chief Minister) Oommen Chandy was hopeful of retaining power until votes were counted in the (2016) assembly election.
You insist that the BJP stands no chance in Kerala. Have you helped the UDF in order to prevent the BJP from winning a seat?
There is not a constituency in Kerala where we had to do so. The BJP's only hope is in Thiruvananthapuram. The LDF has a bright chance there. Even if the LDF position is weak, it does not mean that the BJP is going to win. O Rajagopal benefitted from sympathy votes in 2014 (when he lost the constituency by a whisker to Congress's Shashi Tharoor). The BJP cannot expect to win those independent votes this time.
In 2014, even we were not impressed by the selection of the LDF candidate. The CPI faced a rebellion over it. However, this time we will get the votes we lost last time.
There was no cross voting (for the UDF candidate) in Thiruvananthapuram. The CPM had full confidence in the CPI candidate.
Some people in the Left camp worry that the sentiments against the BJP at the national level could boost the Congress in the state.
That sentiment could benefit the Congress or regional parties in states where the Left is not a force to reckon with. In Kerala, that sentiment will benefit the LDF.
But the Left no longer enjoys the pride of place it had in national place in 2004.
National situations not necessarily reflect in Kerala all the time. When the entire India voted against the Emergency in 1977, Kerala thought differently.
We have reasons to believe that we would improve our nationwide tally from our position in 2014.
You still do not think that the candidature of Congress president Rahul Gandhi was not a deciding factor in Kerala?
Rahul's candidature might have helped the UDF to consolidate its votes in Wayanad. That has not reflected in other constituencies.
Will the CPM oppose Rahul's name as a possible prime minister only because he chose to fight the LDF in Kerala?
Let us think about that after the results come. Nothing prevents the party from taking an anti-BJP stand only because Rahul contested in Kerala. Yet we have no plans to propose Rahul as the prime minister.
Do you have reasons to worry over the state government's stand over the Sabarimala issue? Would you be forced to admit that the religious people turned hostile?
The Left could not take any other stand on the Sabarimala issue. A section of people were led to oppose the government but even they decided not to mix up religion in politics as election approached.
That (Sabarimala issue) has not eroded the LDF votes. On the other hand, the UDF and the BJP got their votes divided in their attempts to cash in on while making an emotional appeal to the faithful.
Don't you think that the BJP could benefit from the government's stand on Sabarimala?
That is the ideology of the BJP. Those who seek votes in the name of Sree Ram in north India do so in the name of Ayyappan here. We thwarted their design to create communal polarisation.
We created a wedge in the NDA camp. As many as 104 Hindu organizations became a part of the “renaissance” movement. The SNDP and the KPMS were against us in the assembly polls but they joined us now.
You still could not win over the NSS (Nair Service Society). Does that bother you?
The NSS has opposed us many times in the past. They secretly help political parties despite claiming to maintain an equidistance policy. They often claim credit for political parties' victory. Only the NSS would know who they helped this time. They have helped the UDF at some places and the BJP at some other places. At some places, they were neither positive nor negative to the LDF.
In case the LDF gets only four seats as in 2009, wouldn't that be considered a no-trust vote for the Pinarayi government?
Whatever be the people's verdict, that will not be a referendum on the state government. We would not think so even if we manage to get all 20 seats. Because this was not an election for or against the state government. Nobody has viewed this election as an assessment of the state government.
The Congess's confidence is based on a consolidation of minority votes.
Minority consolidation was evident in 2004. Still (Left candidates) Lonappan Nambadan won from Mukundapuram by a margin of about 1.25 lakh votes and T K Hamza wrested Manjeri from the Muslim League. Both of them contested under the party symbol. Nothing has changed since then in Kerala.
The Muslim community in general does not appreciate any understanding with the SDPI and Jama'at Islami. It will be a setback for the UDF.