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Will vengara by-election see an upset LDF victory?

By P. Sreekumaran

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Will the by-election in Vengara assembly constituency in Malappuram district witness an upset victory of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate? That is the question worrying the rival United Democratic Front (UDF).

The by-election has been caused by the vacation of the seat by IUML’s national general secretary P K Kunhalikutty following his election as an MP from Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency.

The LDF leaders are riding high on a wave of optimism. In support of their argument that Vengara, a traditional stronghold of the IUML, will see an LDF victory this time around, they cite a host of factors.

First and foremost is the rumbling within the IUML over the candidature of KNA Khader. There were many other aspirants for the seat, but Khader managed to secure the nomination, the grapevine buzzes, with the IUML leadership giving in to a virtual threat by him.

The original candidate, KPA Majid, opted out following stiff opposition to his candidature. Another aspirant, UA Latheef, who had the backing of Kunhalikutty, also failed to get the ticket. Youth League (YL) general secretary P K Feroze also was keen on contesting but that was also not to be. YL leaders stayed away from the campaign to express their displeasure, and joined only after much persuasion from the top IUML leadership.

As if all this was not enough, there is an IUML dissident, K. Hamsa, also in the fray, much to the chagrin of the IUML. Hamsa is an influential candidate as he is a familiar face in the constituency. There is apprehension in the IUML clamp that he could cut into the vote share of the party candidate.

The turmoil in IUML has added to the sense of disquiet in the UDF camp, which was brimming with confidence till the other day. The UDF leaders were boasting that the IUML candidate would romp home by securing a bigger majority than Kunhalikutty, who had won the seat with a majority of over 38,000 votes.

Deepening the sense of unease in the IUML and UDF camp are the unresolved differences between the Congress and the IUML in Malappuram district. In three out of the six panchayats in Vengara, the IUML and the Congress are engaged in a tug of war. And all efforts to sort out the differences have failed. The result is that the cadres of both the parties are yet to jell in the campaign.

A contributory factor to the jitters in the UDF camp is the unilateral statement by Leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, that the UDF will observe a hartal to protest against the ‘anti-people’ policies of both the Modi Government and the LDF Government in the state on October 16, a day after the result of the Vengara by-election. The announcement has upset the IUML leaders as they say it has been made without consulting them.

The ‘last straw’ has come in the form of a statement by a section of Samastha, an influential Sunni group traditionally close to the IUML, advocating closer ties with the CPI(M). The Samastha leaders have been angered by a critical statement made by IUML general secretary E T Mohammed Basheer. Attempts to mollify Samastha have not succeeded so far.

The IUML-hostile stance of the Samastha has to be viewed against the support of the Kanthapuram Musaliar-led AP faction of the Sunnis to the LDF. Kanthapuram, a traditional supporter of the Left in Kerala, wields considerable influence in the constituency.

Last but not the least is the aggressive campaign launched by the LDF against BJP-RSS. This has caused a distinct unease in the UDF camp, which fears that a sizable section of minority votes will shift to the LDF in view of the latter’s aggressive countering of the RSS-BJP combine in the constituency in particular and in other parts of the state in general.

No wonder, the LDF candidate, P P Basheer, who had lost to Kunhalikutty in the last assembly elections, exudes robust optimism. Adding to his confidence is the big response the three LDF rallies addressed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan evoked. The icing on the cake was the campaigning almost on the last day of electioneering by veteran VS Achuthanandan. Not surprisingly, VS attracted the biggest crowd at the LDF campaign. The enthusiastic response to VS’s presence has boosted the confidence of the LDF candidate sky-high. The scent of an upset victory is very much in the air, claim jubilant Left leaders.

Apart from Khader and Basheer, there are three other candidates in the fray. They are: BJP’s Janachandran, KC Naseer of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Independents K Hamsa and Sreenivas. The voting is on October 11 and counting on October 15.

BJP is trying its level best to make its presence in the constituency. As part of the campaign, the ‘Janaraksha Yatra’ undertaken by state party president Kummanam Rajashekharan took a round of the constituency. BJP is pulling out all the stops to wipe off the humiliation it suffered in the Malappuram Lok Sabha by-election because of the dismal show of its candidate.

It goes without saying that the result will have a crucial bearing on IUML and UDF politics. Defeat of the IUML candidate or even a slump in the candidate’s majority will be a loss of face for the party as well as for the UDF of which IUML is a major constituent. That is why party’s strongman Kunhalikutty, a host of other IUML leaders and Congress leaders Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala and KPCC chief MM Hassan are virtually camping in the constituency to avert an electoral disaster. (IPA Service)

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