Political forecasters will no doubt have a busy time extrapolating from last week’s local body elections in Kerala. For one thing, they will have to contend with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party. For another, they will have to make sense of its unconvincing performance in the areas where it was predicted to do better.

As many as 1,199 local bodies, with over 21,000 seats, went to polls in the southern state last week. Spicing up the contest this time was the alliance the BJP struck with the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, an organisation representing the numerically strong Ezhava community.

On the face of it, the BJP did well. Though the party and its allies won just 14 of the nearly 2,000 local bodies, they did manage to poll 18% of all votes and in places upset the long-established political equations.

In Thiruvananthapuram civic corporation, for instance, the BJP prevented the Left Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), from getting a clear majority by clinching 35 seats. Indeed, its performance in Thiruvananthapuram – a steep rise from the 2010 tally of six – pushed the Congress-led United Democratic Front into third place. Similarly, in Thrissur corporation, the BJP thwarted a majority for the LDF by winning 6 seats.

About six months before the state polls, the verdict could be an indicator of things to come. There is likelihood that electoral contests – for decades, straight battles between UDF and LDF – could become triangular as the BJP, which has never won an assembly or Lok Sabha seat in Kerala, gains ground. But there are other factors to wrestle with.

Left comeback

While the BJP increased its vote share from 12% in 2010 to 18% this time in alliance with some Hindu organisations, its coalition with the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam didn’t pay off adequately.

The partners made no significant headway in SNDP general secretary Vellappally Natesan’s home district of Alappuzha and its other bastions in Kollam and Kottayam districts. Even in Kanichukulangara, the hometown of Natesan, and the nearby Cherthala municipality, the coalition candidates lost resoundingly.

Unperturbed, both the BJP and SNDP ruled out a review of their political tie-up over the weekend. PS Sreedharan Pillai, a former president of the state BJP unit, said not much should be read into the setbacks received in some Ezhava pockets since the alliance was forged days before the polls. Still, it could mean that Ezhavas did not warm up to the idea of a partnership between the SNDP, whose founder Sree Narayana Guru preached social justice, and the BJP, which has a history of spouting divisive rhetoric.

While the BJP was grappling with equivocal outcomes, the LDF was celebrating its resounding wins. Reversing its losing streak in the state, the front won 68% of the local bodies and rekindled hopes of scoring big in the assembly elections.

Spooked by the BJP’s coalition with SNDP, the CPI(M) had brought in its old warhorse VS Achuthanandan, who made Natesan’s alleged corruption the mainstay of his campaign. At the same time, LDF made major inroads into minority belts, such as Muslim-dominated Malappuram and Christian-dominated Ernakulam and Kottayam districts, by pointing out to the dangers of Hindu consolidation. The strategies paid off in the local body elections. But will they work in the state assembly elections?