By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: There is no mistaking the signs: Kerala’s political landscape is all set to acquire a deeper shade of red in the wake of the Chengannur assembly by-election result.
CPI(M) candidate Saji Cherian retained the seat by trouncing Congress candidate D Vijaya Kumar by a record margin of over 20,000 votes. BJP’s P S Sreedharan Pillai, who was hopeful of upsetting the applecarts of both the LDF and the UDF came a distant third.
The by-election was necessitated by the death of CPI(M) MLA K K Ramachandran Nair.
The most significant feature of the Chengannur verdict is that after the Muslims, even a sizable section of Christian voters have deserted the Congress-led United Democratic Front(UDF). The drifting away of Christian voters, traditional supporters of the Congress and the UDF, must cause utmost concern to the UDF. After all, Christians along with Muslims form the bedrock of the UDF’s traditional voter base.
And if the Chengannur voting pattern repeats in the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections – as is likely – then the outlook is ominous for the UDF. Unless the front gets its act together fast, its hopes of giving a good account of itself in the parliamentary polls will be dashed to the ground.
What must worry the UDF even more is the reason behind the shifting of allegiance by the Christian voters to the LDF. Christian voters, like their Muslim counterparts, have started believing that, when it comes to countering the onslaught of communal forces led by the BJP-RSS combine, the CPI(M)-led LDF is a safer bet.
A closer look at the voting pattern at Chengannur will bear this out. The CPI(M) candidate led in all the 10 panchayats which constitute the assembly constituency. The CPI(M) led even in the panchayats under the control of the Congress, BJP and the Kerala Congress(M) which decided at the last moment to back the UDF candidate. That the move failed dismally is clear from the fact that even in the KC(M) controlled panchayat, the CPI(M) candidate maintained an impressive lead.
Thus, the shifting of the loyalties of Christian voters coupled with a well-orchestrated campaign by the ruling LDF made the task of winning the by-election easy. In a deft move, which swayed the Chengannur voters, the LDF kept the focus on the theme of development and the need to keep the developmental momentum by voting for the CPI(M) candidate. The campaign struck a chord with the voters as they have seen the visible signs of development initiated by the late Ramachandran Nair during his tenure. Voting out the CPI(M) candidate would have meant undoing all the good work done by Nair. That explains the thumping majority scored by Saji Cherian.
No wonder, the LDF camp is jubilant. They feel, rightly so, that the verdict also amounts to an endorsement of the two-year performance of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF Government. Even more significant is the distinct possibility of the pattern repeating across the state in the 2019 parliamentary polls, raising visions of a rich haul of Lok Sabha seats for the LDF.
Conversely, the election result has ominous implications for the UDF. The desertion of even traditional Christian votes has shaken the front to its very foundations. Another reason for the Congress candidate’s pathetic defeat has been rampant factionalism. Former KPCC president V M Sudheeran hit the nail on the head when he blamed the defeat of Congress to raging factional feud. If not controlled in time, it would destroy the Congress, Sudheeran warned.
Understandably, a worried Congress High Command has summoned senior party leaders for an analysis of the party debacle and discussion on urgent corrective measures. It will not be easy for Congress president Rahul Gandhi to set the Congress house in order, given the virulent factionalism which has been the bane of the party in Kerala. Already, the younger leaders in the party have risen the banner of revolt against senior leaders. They are demanding a generational change in leadership if the party has to retain its political relevance in the state. Rahul Gandhi has his plate full.
The result must have come as an eye-opener for the BJP as well. The party was hoping to put up a better show, if not spring an unpleasant surprise on the LDF and the UDF. But that was not to be. The BJP’s goose was cooked the moment its main ally in the state, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena(BDJS) adopted a non-cooperative attitude by staying away from the campaign. The verdict shows that the BDJS boycott had a crucial bearing on the BJP’s performance., BJP candidate Sreedharan Pillai, who polled an impressive 42,000 votes in the 2016 assembly elections – just 2,000 votes behind the Congress candidate – had the mortification of seeing his tally suffering an over 7000-vote decline this time. The BJP admitted defeat even before the counting by shifting the party’s state chief Kummanam Rajasekharan to the Raj Bhavan in distant Mizoram! The forebodings are grim for the saffron party. The lotus is not only not blooming in the secular soil of Kerala, it is also showing disturbing signs of wilting under the heat of the secular sun.
This being the ground reality, it can be said without fear of contradiction that the LDF is all set to dominate the political discourse in the state in the days to come. The impressive victory at Chengannur has acted as a shot in the arm for the front, which hopes to win majority of the 20 Lok Sabha seats from the state. A conservative estimate has it that, if the momentum generated by the Chenagannur win endures, the LDF may romp home with at least 15 seats.