By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: September 27 is a Red Letter Day in the annals of left politics in Kerala. The day saw the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF) score a historic victory in the Pala assembly by-election.
The LDF candidate, Mani C. Kappan wrested the seat from the UDF candidate Jose Tom, ending an over five-decade-long monopoly of the Kerala Congress(M), a constituent of the UDF over the seat, represented by KC(M) stalwart K. M. Mani for over 50 years. The by-election was necessitated by the passing away of Mani in April this year. Kappan, who belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP), a constituent of the LDF, was fourth time lucky as he had lost to KM Mani thrice in the past assembly elections.
Understandably, the LDF is over the moon as the victory in Pala has come barely a few months after the Front suffered a devastating defeat – the LDF could win only one out of the 20 seats from the state – in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The spectacular victory in Pala , a great morale-booster that would erase the humiliation of the Lok Sabha loss, will enable the Front to face the five more assembly by-elections scheduled to be held in October with greater confidence.
What is remarkable about the victory of Kappan is that he has managed to capture one after the other, UDF fort in Pala. Out of the 13 panchayats, Kappan won in 10. He also emerged the winner in Pala municipality. The UDF managed to win only three panchayats – a wound that would take a long time to heal.
The victory is also an endorsement, in a way, of the performance of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF Government in the State. Vijayan himself led from the front, spending the last three days of campaign in the constituency addressing over 12 meetings. An additional bonus was, of course, the impressive campaign conducted by the clockwork-like efficiency of the CPI(M)’s organisational machinery, ably marshalled by none other than CPI(M) state secretary, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
The victory of Kappan was also made possible by the total disarray in the UDF camp, especially the internecine factional feud in the Kerala Congress(M).
As a wag put it, it was a self-goal scored by the UDF. The Jose K Mani and P J Joseph factions in the KC(M) fought like Kilkenny cats right from the word go. The ugly spat between the warring factions, understandably, angered the KC(M) rank and file. And it is clear as daylight that a big slice of the KC(M) vote went to the LDF candidate.
Another factor that contributed to the shocking UDF defeat was the failure of the KC(M) to fight on its own symbol – two leaves thanks to the bitter infighting. The KC(M)’s humiliation was complete as it had to fight the poll, for the first time in 50 years as a UDF-backed Independent!
To say that the UDF in general and the KC(M) in particular will take a long time to recover from the stunning electoral blow is only to state the obvious. As for the KC(M), it will face a crisis of identity and confidence.
The UDF leaders have already sounded a note of warning to the KC(M). If it fails to sink their differences, then the party runs the risk of being expelled from the UDF. For, the UDF simply cannot afford to have a constituent which is at war with itself. At stake is the survival of the UDF, its cohesion and stability.
As for the CPI(M) and other LDF constituents, the slow disintegration of the KC(M) and the resultant weakening of the Congress-led UDF is a big bonus. The UDF defeat would help the CPI(M) to firm up its footing in Central Kerala, its Achilles Heel and the UDF’s stronghold. The post-Pala scene could see the emergence of the LDF as a stronger force occupying the space vacated by the KC(M). The latter could even undergo a split with a section crossing over to the LDF, altering the state’s political map.
The BJP, which was hopeful of further strengthening its position, also fared poorly in Pala, its vote share plummeting precipitously from over 24, 000 votes in 2014 and 2016 to less than 19,000 in this by-election. This cannot but cause grave concern to BJP leadership who have chalked up elaborate plans to conquer Kerala and liberate the State from the LDF and the UDF. The results show, once again, that it would take a long time for the lotus to blossom in God’s Own Country.
The most significant message emanating from Pala is the robust reassertion of the secular ethos animating the State. Repeated attempts to divide the people of the state on communal lines have come a cropper. The pluralistic spirit has asserted itself again and the state has shown the communal forces led by the BJP-RSS that their dream to convert Kerala into an Uttar Pradesh won’t succeed. (IPA Service)