By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Will the Pala assembly constituency spring an ugly surprise on the Congress-led United Democratic Front? Or, will the CPI(M)-headed Left Democratic Front (LDF)create history by wresting the seat after 54 years?
These are the questions uppermost in the minds of Pala voters even as the no-holds-barred campaign in the by-election came to a close on Friday. The campaign guns have fallen silent a day earlier as Saturday happens to be the Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi Day.
The by-election has been necessitated by the passing away of Kerala Congress(M) patriarch, K. M. Mani, who held the seat for over 50 years- a record in the annals of Kerala Assembly elections.
The last few days saw the campaign slipping into top gear with big guns of all the three fronts hitting the campaign trail. While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and CPI state secretary, Kanam Rajendran led the LDF campaign, senior Congress leader A K Antony, former chief minister Oommen Chandy and leader of the opposition, Ramesh Chennithala were the star campaigners for the UDF.
While both the UDF and the LDF are exuding optimism about the outcome, the mood in the LDF camp is more upbeat this time. They have every reason to feel good.
First and foremost is the disunity and the resultant disarray in the UDF camp owing to the internecine in fighting which plagued the KC(M) right from word go. The two factions in the party, whose stronghold Pala is, led by Jose K Mani, MP and veteran PJ Joseph, have been fighting like Kilkenny cats. The feud has resulted in the KC(M) unable to fight the polls on its election symbol, Two Leaves. The party candidate, Jose Tom has had to fight as an Independent supported by the UDF!
Needless to say, this has created confusion among the rank and file of the KC(M). The absence of the traditional symbol of two leaves is bound to influence the voting pattern, claims the LDF camp. True, Joseph did campaign for the UDF candidate after expressing his inability to do so in the beginning. But it won’t erase the bitterness created by the factional feud, assert the LDF Campaign managers. They also say there won ‘t be any sympathy wave in favour of the UDF candidate either because of the disgusted caused by the open and ugly bickering between the two factions in the run -up to the campaign. That the UDF leaders had to issue a stern warning to the warring KC (M) leaders to stop their war of words is a telling commentary of the state of affairs in the UDF camp.
LDF leaders say, if anything, that the sympathy wave this time will be in favour of the front’s candidate, Mani C. Kappen, who lost to KM Mani in the last four election s. The lack of development and the absence of the KC(M) stalwart from the scene would be a plus point for Kappen. Last but not the least, in the last election, Kappen put up a good fight and Mani scrapped through with a slender majority of over 4,000 votes.
The sea-change the constituency has undergone post-Mani, could upset the UDF applecart.
The plus points in favour of the LDF are: the good performance of the Pinarayi Vijayan government and the clinical efficiency of the LDF campaign.
Besides, LDF leaders are confident that the voting pattern witnessed in the Lok Sabha election will not be repeated in the Pala by-election. The minorities who let the LDF down in the LS polls would return to the front. Their reasoning: the assembly elections are a different ball game.
Most importantly, they point out that the minorities have realised the mistake of voting for the Congress. The conduct and the performance of the Congress post Lok Sabha elections has proved that the party cannot be depended upon in the larger battle against the communal forces led by the BJP-RSS. The un edifying spectacle of almost-daily defections from the Congress to the BJP has demoralised the minorities. Therefore, the minorities will shift their loyalty from the Congress to the LDF this time. They aver.
The BJP is also in the Pala fray. But its candidate is unlikely to work any wonders this time either. At the most, the party candidate may succeed in increasing its vote share. That is all.
The outcome is more crucial for the UDF than the LDF. If the UDF loses the prestigious by-election, it would have a demoralising effect on the morale of the Front in general and that of the Congress in particular.
The constituency boasts of an electorate of 1,77,850. Women voters (90,814) outnumber men (87, 036). The polling will take place on September 23. (IPA Service)