The victory of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate at the lone bypoll to Kerala’s Neyyattinkara assembly constituency is a severe bodyblow to the CPM and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) because the latter had so much riding on its outcome.
One, the seat belonged to the CPM and the election was necessitated by the resignation of the sitting MLA of the party and his overnight defection to the UDF. The same candidate has fought against the CPM and retained his seat. Traditionally, the CPM/LDF has a clear edge in the constituency and has held the seat in the last two assembly elections.
Two, the election was touted by the Congress and the UDF as the people’s verdict against the alleged criminalisation of politics by CPM, in the wake of the cloud of suspicion against the party for the brutal murder of TP Chandrasekharan, a popular leader in north Kerala.
Three, this was the second bypoll loss for the CPM and the LDF in a row, and its last chance to reduce the wafer-thin majority of the Oomen Chandy government. Sure of a victory, some chest-thumping CPM leaders had proclaimed that politics in the state will change after this election.
Four, a win in this election was absolutely necessary for the CPM to justify the hardline leadership of the party to further marginalise its senior-most leader and the former chief minister VS Achuthanandan who publicly embarrassed it.
When the victory of the UDF candidate R Selvaraj by 6000 plus votes (almost the same majority that he had won as the CPM candidate in the last general elections) was officially announced, the CPM camp was initially out of words while the jubilation by the UDF-Congress supporters swept the constituency.
There was no initial response from the party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan while some of the junior leaders tried to play down the significance of the loss and even termed it as a moderate success given the intensity of the “false propaganda” against the party by the opposition, the police and the media for the murder of Chandrasekharan.
Achuthanandan, however, lost no opportunity to use the debacle of his party to his advantage. He said the main reasons for the loss were the murder of Chandrasekharan and the statement of a local leader MM Mani that the party had plotted and killed its opponents.
The veteran leader who drew massive crowds during the campaign in the constituency was in fact reiterating his stand against the party leadership on both the issues. Instead of distancing itself from the leaders suspected of a role in Chandrasekharan’s murder as well as from Mani, the party leadership tried to unleash an offensive against the police and the media. Although Mani had been dropped from his district secretaryship, he continued to enjoy the patronage of the state leadership.
One of the Pinarayi camp leaders, EP Jayarajan, however rejected Achuthanandan’s observations and said the loss was no big deal.
Other than the CPM’s rout, what is equally striking about the bypoll outcome is the number of votes the BJP candidate, former union minister O Rajagopal, garnered. BJP has never been a serious contender in Kerala elections, but this time, he almost spoiled the chances of both the candidates. The BJP has polled four times the votes it got last time and came a close third after the UDF and LDF candidates.
Initial analysis indicates that the BJP has heavily cut into the votes of both the UDF and the LDF and the four-fold increase of its votes is a clear message of communal consolidation of Hindu votes.
The last time the district (Thiruvananthapuram, where the Neyyattinkara constituency is) witnessed a BJP consolidation of Hindu votes was in the 1984 Loksabha elections when its candidates polled more than 100,000 votes threatening to topple the chances of both the UDF and the LDF. In the Neyyattinkara constituency, there was a very strong whisper campaign that Rajagopal will win the BJP’s first ever assembly seat in Kerala. However, it yet again remained what it has at best been so far – a minor cause for anxiety for the leading fronts.
Oomen Chandy can now breathe a bit easier because this win has raised UDF’s majority in the assembly to 72 as against the LDF’s 67. Chandy had begun his tenure with a tally of 71-68 and had since won two by-elections. In one, the UDF retained the seat and in the second, it wrested it from the LDF.