THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Will the Left Democratic Front (LDF) score an upset victory in Puthuppally Assembly constituency, which is going to the polls on September 5? That is the million dollar question agitating the minds of Keralites.
The by-election has been necessitated by the passing away of former Kerala Chief Minister and Congress veteran Oommen Chandy. The Congress has fielded Chandy’s son, Chandy Oommen while the LDF has put up Jaick C Thomas, who is trying his luck in the constituency for the third time. It may be mentioned that in the 2021 Assembly election, Jaick gave Oommen Chandy a run for his money, drastically reducing the latter’s majority to less than 10,000 votes. While Oommen Chandy polled 63, 372 votes (48. 08%), Jaick secured 54, 328 votes (41.22%).
Oommen Chandy had represented Puthuppally for an astounding 53 years! Therefore, the Congress is counting on the Oommen Chandy factor this time. The massive sympathy wave would carry Chandy’s son past the winning post, the Congress and other United Democratic Front (UDF) leaders believe.
True, the Congress had a head-start as the party announced its candidate with lightning speed, for a change, this time. But the LDF has caught up with the Congress candidate with a brilliant campaign blitzkrieg. The result: The Congress has been rudely jolted out of its sense of complacency. The party has realized that the battle is no walk in the park. Jaick is a highly popular leader and a familiar face in Puthuppally. He also has a clean image and is a brilliant orator. His determined electioneering has robbed the Congress leaders of their sleep. Gone is the sparkle in their eyes and the spring in their steps. It is game on in Puthuppally.
The CPI(M) has launched a disciplined campaign putting the focus on the lamentable lack of development in the constituency although Oommen Chandy represented it for over five decades. In fact, the Congress shied away from a debate on development in the constituency the CPI(M) wanted to conduct. The LDF leaders claim the refusal to have a debate betrays the sense of panic in the Congress camp.
Apart from lack of development, the LDF has other factors in its favour. First and foremost is the fact that out of the eight panchayats in Puthuppally, the CPI(M) controls six. The CPI(M) is also in control of three block panchayats in the constituency.
The Congress, on the other hand, is leaning heavily on the sympathy factor. The clean image and the excellent record in office of Oommen Chandy would help the party romp home the winner, Congress leaders point out. Forty-five days after his death, thousands of people visit Oommen Chandy’s tomb at Puthuppally. The unprecedented crowds show his immense popularity. This will lead to a massive victory for his son, So believe the Congress leaders.
CPI(M) and other LDF leaders, however, disagree. They are of the view that the sympathy factor won’t be the decisive factor this time. Even Oommen Chandy had to literally sweat it out against Jaick and scraped through with a narrow margin in 2021. The son has neither his stature nor his calibre. Therefore, Jaick could spring an unpleasant surprise on the Congress this time around, they assert.
A BJP candidate is also there in the poll fray. But the party is not much of a force although Hindus constitute around 52 per cent of the population in the constituency. The party is banking heavily on the performance of the Modi Government and the ‘corruption’ of the LDF Government. Last time the BJP candidate had polled 11,000 odd votes. Poll observers say the party would manage to poll only half of what it bagged in 2021.
Two other developments have caused deepening of the lines on Congress leaders’ foreheads. One, the Orthodox Christian group, to which Oommen Chandy belonged, has given the freedom its followers to cast a conscience vote! This has caused extreme unease in the Congress camp. The decision means the Congress cannot count on the full support of Orthodox Christians. As if this was not enough, the Pentacost Christians, who number around 16,000 in the constituency have indicated that they would favour the LDF candidate. That is another unexpected blow for the Congress candidate. In glaring contrast, Jacobite Christians – Jaick is a Jacobite Christian – have extended unstinted support to the CPI(M) candidate. This last-minute twist could also have a crucial bearing on the result.
Needless to say, the outcome is crucial for the Congress. A defeat here would have disastrous consequences for the party’s future and would badly affect its chances in the Lok Sabha elections next year. An upset victory for the CPI(M) would be a shot in the arm for the party and the LDF it heads. It could change political equations in the state. Kerala is waiting with bated breath for the Puthuppally verdict. (IPA Service)