Kerala local body polls: Ruling LDF set for sweep, BJP on way to better its 2015 show

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(Eds: Adds details, quotes) Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 16 (PTI) The ruling CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala on Wednesday appeared set for a sweep in the local body polls in the state, while the BJP seemed to have made some gains, leading in Pandalam, the centre of protestsagainst women's entry into Sabarimala, among others.

The Left Democratic Front was leading in 514 of the 941 grama panchayats, five of the six city corporations and 11 of the 14 district panchayats, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, describing the strong performance as people's victory.

He claimed the main opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has become insignificant while the BJP has bitten the dust and 'communal forces' were also shown the exit in the state in the grassroot-level polls, held ahead of the assembly elections likely in April-May 2021.

The UDF was in the second spot, leading in over 400 local bodies, as the votes polled in the three-phase elections that concluded on December 14 were taken up for counting on Wednesday.

The outcome of the polls is seen as an indicator of the public mood ahead of the assembly elections.

The Left front was also ahead in 108 block panchayats, Vijayan told reporters here.

The Chief Minister also took to Twitter to thank the people for reposing faith in the ruling front.

'Thank you Kerala. Thank you for reposing faith in LDF.

We are humbled by the trust and the confidence of the people of Kerala. This is a victory for secularism and inclusive development,' he said.

It was 'people's victory,' he said, adding LDF's performance was a 'resounding reply' to those who tried to belittle the state's achievements.

The UDF, leading in 375 grama panchayats, 44 block panchayats, 45 municipalities and three district panchayats, however, asserted it has not lost ground in any of its traditional bastions and claims of a rout were 'baseless'.

The BJP is ahead in 23 grama panchayats and two municipalities, including Pandalam, the centre of state-wide protests against the entry of women in the previously banned age group of 10-50 into the Lord Ayyappa shrine at Sabarimala.

The saffron party was ahead in Palakkad municipality also.

Though the BJP could not put up a spectacular show, it still seemed to be on course to better its 2015 record, when it won 14 grama panchayats and Palakkad the municipality.

The shattered dream of capturing the Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur corporations was a major setback for it.

The remarkable surge of LDF comes at a time when the front and its government, headed by Vijayan, were passing through one of the toughest periods since coming to power in 2016 as it had to face a barrage of allegations, including over the gold smuggling case, levelled by the opposition.

TheChief Minister's former principal secretary M Sivasankar, a senior IAS officer, had been arrested in the gold smuggling case being probed by various central agencies.

'Keralites have given a befitting reply to the joint effort of power brokers, fake campaigners and the central agencies spreading fake news. The UDF has become insignificant in Kerala politics.

'BJP has bitten the dust. They have been decimated in Kerala. Their claims were totally destroyed. Communal forces were also shown exit in the state,' Vijayan told reporters.

He also criticised a section of media in Kerala and urged them to engage in 'constructive criticism' instead of 'fake propaganda'.

Some people cooked up imaginary stories and tried to portray the Left government in a bad light, he claimed.

UDF leaders -- KPCC President Mullapally Ramachandran, Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Ramesh Chennithala and former chief minister Oommen Chandy said the claims that the party-led front had been routed was baseless.

'The front has not lost ground in any of its traditional bastions. The UDF Political Affairs committee will meet on Thursday to take stock of the results,' Ramachandran said, adding the CPI(M) and the LDF need not rejoice.

They had not sought votes on development agenda, he claimed.

Chennithala said UDF did well in the elections.

'Over 375 panchayats are with us. The BJP has proved to be a total failure in the state. Even after using all the influence of central agencies, the BJP failed. Yes, we had certain issues which we will address', he said.

The fight against the 'anti-people' policies of the central and state governments will continue, he added.

'Other than in Pandalam and Palakkad, BJP has not made any impact in Kerala. We will look into the reasons behind loss of seats in Thiruvananthapuram,' Chennithala said.

BJP state president K Surendran alleged the UDF and LDF worked together to defeat his party in Thiruvananthapuram.

The UDF vote share has gone down drastically. Many 'communal' organisations also helped the LDF, he alleged.

The good show by CPI(M) in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation is the result of an 'unholy nexus' between the Left and the Congress, he said, adding the latter had failed in fighting the Left party and they need to introspect.

A Vijayaraghavan, LDF convener, who also holds the charge of CPI(M) state secretary, said the poll outcome showed people have rejected the 'false campaign' against the party and the Chief Minister.

P K Kunhalikutty, leader of IUML, a constituent of the UDF, said the party retained its strongholds and the front would introspect the results.

The polling, as per strict COVID-19 protocol, was held to a total of 21,893 wards in 1,200 local-self governing bodies, 87 municipalities, on December 8, 10 and 14.

Repoll will be held in two booths in Wayanad and Malappuram districts on Thursday.PTI RRT LGK UD VS VS