By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Chengannur assembly by-election, campaign for which ended on May 26, is all set for a thrilling finish. The by-election, which was necessitated by the death of CPI(M) MLA K K Ramachandran Nair, saw a no-holds-barred and high-voltage campaign by the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF), the Congress-headed United Democratic Front(UDF) and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) buoyant after the spectacular victory in the Tripura Assembly election.
The stakes are very high for all the three fronts. The result will have no impact on the stability of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF Government. But defeat will be interpreted as an adverse verdict on the government’s performance. That is why the LDF, and especially the CPI(M), has pulled out all the stops to ensure the victory of the party candidate, Saji Cheriyan.
The outcome is no less significant for the Congress candidate D Vijayakumar as well. It is a prestigious battle for the UDF which has launched a well-orchestrated campaign to wrest the seat from the CPI(M), which won in Chengannur, a traditional Congress stronghold over the years, in the 2016 assembly election by a margin of over 6,500 votes.
For the BJP too, the Chengannur result is extremely important. The party is pretty confident of putting up a good show this time around. In fact, BJP candidate P S Sreedharan Pillai is sure of at least improving upon the party’s performance in the 2016 election if not springing an unpleasant surprise on both the LDF and the UDF by romping home the winner. Pillai who was the BJP candidate in 2016 as well had polled an impressive 42,000 odd votes then.
A few developments which have taken place since the poll campaign began have altered the scenario quite a bit and made the race tighter. The CPI(M) candidate had a clear edge to begin with. But that situation has changed, claim the UDF and the BJP.
The UDF received a much-needed boost to its campaign with Kerala Congress(Mani) deciding to support the front’s candidate. So much so that the UDF camp is now predicting a victory for its candidate.
CPI(M) and the LDF are, however, unfazed by the development. The LDF believes that the party candidate is in such a strong position that it would win even without the support of the KC(M). The CPI(M) camp contends that a big slice of the KC(M) vote will fall in the LDF kitty despite the KC(M)’s official stand. The UDF will attract only a small slice of the KC(M) vote – that of the supporters of PJ Joseph who favour a return to the UDF. The BJP will end up with only a crumb of the KC(M) vote.
Another development which could have a bearing on the result is the decision of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam(SNDP) to support the candidate who supports the Yogam’s cause! CPI(M) believes that the SNDP’s stance, announced by general secretary Vellappally Natesan will benefit the CPI(M) candidate. It is not without significance that CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan promptly welcomed the SNDP stand. Kodiyeri has every reason to be pleased with the SNDP decision as majority of SNDP voters are traditional supporters of the LDF. Nothing has happened to change that ground reality, contend the CPI(M) supporters. BJP, which was hopeful of getting a big slice of the SNDP votes, will be dismayed by the SNDP boss’s stand.
The BJP’s hopes of putting up a good performance are unlikely to fructify, Tripura euphoria notwithstanding. First and foremost, the BJP camp suffered a big setback with its principal ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena(BDJS), which has pockets of influence in the constituency, deciding to stay away from the campaign to protest against what it called the BJP’s raw deal meted out to it. In the light of ther BDJS’s attitude of non-cooperation, the BJP candidate will find it extremely hard to repeat his 2016 performance.
True, the LDF camp exudes optimism about retaining the seat. But there is one factor which is worrying the LDF camp. The hostile stance of the church will has been angered by the new liquor policy of the Vijayan government. The church and the various Christian organizations have a sizable presence in the constituency. And if the anger is translated into votes, then the CPI(M) could be in trouble. The LDF camp, however, plays down the significance of this development as they say the support from the SNDP and a section of the KC(M) vote will more than compensate the loss accruing from the loss of Christian vote.
The polling is on May 28. The counting will be held on May 31 and the result announced the same day.(IPA Service)