The Congress got an unexpected electoral boost in Kerala, with its candidates winning 15 seats, even as it was battered by bad news from the rest of India as counting for the Lok Sabha elections progressed on Thursday.

With its allies clinching in four seats, the Congress-led United Democratic Front has won 19 of the state’s 20 parliamentary constituencies. Among its allies, the Indian Union Muslim League won two seats while the Kerala Congress (Mani group) and Revolutionary Socialist Party won one seat each.

All 19 United Democratic Front candidates won comfortably, with leads ranging between 10,000 votes and 4 lakh votes. As many as 10 of them won with a margin of over 1 lakh votes.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the Left Democratic Front that rules the state, won only one seat, according to latest figures from the Election Commission of India.

The party’s MA Arif won Alappuzha in central Kerala, defeating Shanimol Usman of the Congress by over 9,000 votes. Its alliance partner, the Communist Party of India, lost all four seats it contested.

Many Communist Party of India (Marxist) strongholds – such as Kasaragod, Kannur, Palakkad and Alathur – have gone to the Congress.

The Congress’s resurgence in Kerala has derailed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts to wedge a foot in the door in a state where it has never won a single parliamentary seat so far.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who many felt was in danger of losing his Thiruvananthapuram seat, won by over 1 lakh votes. He defeated BJP’s Kummanam Rajashekharan. Rajashekharan was the BJP’s brightest hope and a few opinion and exit polls had even predicted his victory.

BJP candidates K Surendran and Suresh Gopi were tipped to win Pathanamthitta and Thrissur but finished in third place.

In Pathanamthitta, Anto Antony of the Congress defeated his nearest rival, Veena George of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) by over 40,000 votes. In Thrissur, the Congress’s TN Pratapan beat his closest rival, Rajaji Mathew Thomas of the Communist Party of India by over 93,000 votes.

Graphic by Sanjana Venkatesan

Winning factors

This is the Congress’s best performance in Kerala in the Lok Sabha elections. Its last good performance in the state was in 2009, when it won 13 seats. The Congress-led United Democratic Front clinched 16 seats at that time. In 2014, the United Democratic Front won 12 seats, while the Left Democratic Front won eight seats.

In Wayanad, Congress president Rahul Gandhi scored a thumping victory, defeating his closest rival, PP Suneer of the Communist Party of India by over 4 lakh votes.

Gandhi, who also contested from his family borough of Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, lost to BJP’s Smriti Irani by over 48,000 votes from that seat.

The Wayanad result appears to have vindicated Gandhi’s decision to contest from Kerala. His candidature rejuvenated the party’s machinery, which struggled to finalise candidates due to infighting for many weeks in the run-up to the election.

Gandhi’s presence in Kerala appears to have helped the Congress gain the votes of Muslims and Christians, the two prominent minority communities in the state.

During his campaign in Kerala, Gandhi conducted road shows in Wayanad and spoke at several election rallies. In all his speeches, Gandhi targeted the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, refraining from attacking the state government.

State Congress chief Mullappally Ramachandran acknowledged that his party benefited from the fact that Gandhi contested from a seat in Kerala. “His decision to contest from Wayanad created ripples in all the 20 Lok Sabha seats and it is the prime reason for the party’s victory,” he said at a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday.

Kerala Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala went a step further, attributing the party’s victory to a “Rahul wave”. “It was a clear Rahul wave,” said Chennithala on Thursday.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan admitted that the United Democratic Front bagged the votes of members of the minority communities. “It appears from the initial assessment that the minority communities voted en masse for the Congress,” he said.

Sabarimala issue

Apart from minority votes, leaders admitted that the Congress also garnered votes from the majority community because of the state government’s handling of the Sabarimala issue.

“Majority and minority communities voted together for the Congress for the first time in history,” said Ramachandran.

Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy agreed. “Congress got votes from all sections of society and hence this historic result,” he said.

Last year, the BJP had attempted to gain politically from the controversy over the entry of women into the Sabarimala hill shrine.

Women of menstruating age were barred from entering the shrine, but the Supreme Court, on September 28, ruled that all women must be allowed to worship at the shrine dedicated to Ayyappa.

The Left-led state government promised to implement the verdict but the Congress and BJP demanded that the traditions at Sabarimala should be preserved.

The Sangh Parivar, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, organised violent protests all over the state, alleging that the Left government was trying to destroy Hindu traditions.

The upper-caste Hindu Nair Service Society also protested against the state government’s decision to implement the Supreme Court verdict. had reported in April that many Sabarimala agitators were planning to vote for the Congress as it was better placed to defeat the Left in Kerala.

Congress chief Ramachandran had a different explanation.

He said the violent protests by the Sangh Parivar had hurt Hindu devotees across the state. “Hence true Hindu devotees voted for Congress,” he said.