Kerala's LDF clinches rare win in Pala bypoll; Congress, BJP vote share decreases, but experts warn against drawing conclusions
Despite a fall in BJP vote share in the Pala bypoll, which was won by NCP and LDF candidate Mani C Kappen, political analysts are not ready to dismiss the saffron party as a force in the state
NCP leader Mani C Kappen rekindled the sagging spirit in the Left camp by wresting the Pala Assembly seat from KC(M), the third-largest constituent of the Congress-led UDF, for the first time in four decades
Political analysts see the victory as a reversal of the trend seen during the Lok Sabha elections, in which the LDF lost 19 of the 20 parliamentary seats
The correction made by the CPM in its stand over the Sabarimala issue following the Lok Sabha poll debacle seems to have cleared the apprehensions in the minds of the minorities
The BJP's dismal performance in the Pala bypoll shows that the saffron party's perforamnce in 2019 Lok Sbaha election had no effect on the people in the state
However, political analysts are not ready to dismiss BJP as a force since the contest in by-elections is always between front runners
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala got a big breather from the devastating defeat it suffered in the Lok Sabha polls four months ago by capturing a formidable rival fortress.
NCP leader Mani C Kappen rekindled the sagging spirit in the Left camp by wresting the Pala Assembly seat from Kerala Congress (M), the third-largest constituent of the Congress-led opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), for the first time in the last four decades.
The last time the LDF won from Pala was in 1980 when their candidate was KC(M) founder KM Mani, who had switched over to the LDF in the wake of the political rumbling over the Emergency. KM Mani had represented the seat continuously since 1967. The by-election was caused by his death in April this year.
Kappen’s victory by 2,943 votes will give much-needed relief to the LDF as it prepares for by-elections to five Assembly constituencies on 21 October. Political analysts see the victory as a reversal of the trend seen during the Lok Sabha elections, in which the LDF lost 19 of the 20 parliamentary seats.
NP Chekutty, a left-leaning political observer, said that the LDF had lost heavily in the Lok Sabha election due to consolidation of minority votes in favour of the UDF over the candidature of former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad and the hasty move by the LDF government to implement the SC verdict on the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 in the Sabarimala temple.
“The minorities had rallied behind the Congress believing that it was in a better position to fight the Hindutva forces nationally. However, the decline of the party at the national level has shaken their trust. The result in Pala could be seen as a sign of the minorities swinging back to the LDF, which is politically and ideologically strong to take on the BJP and the RSS,” he said.
As regards Sabarimala, the minorities had viewed the government’s decision to throw open the doors of the temple to women with scant regard to the religious sentiments of the believers, as a threat even to their own faith.
The correction made by the CPM in its stand over the Sabarimala issue following the Lok Sabha poll debacle seems to have cleared the apprehensions in the minds of the minorities. The CPM had launched a door-to-door campaign prior to the bypoll to take home the message that they are not against faith.
Chekutty believes that the victory in Pala could be the cumulative effect of these factors. He said the reverse trend may gain traction if the LDF is able to repeat this performance in the by-elections in Vattiyoorkvu, Konni, Aroor, Ernakulam and Manjeshwaram, many of which are dominated by minorities.
He feels that the loss in Pala may add to the decline of Congress in Kerala, which has now become a major bastion for the grand old party.
The UDF camp is unwilling to give much credit to the LDF for the victory since the coalition sees it partially as a result of disarray in KC(M) following the death of the party leader and a sharp decline in the votes polled by the BJP.
After the departure of KM Mani, a power struggle between PJ Joseph, the working chairman of the party, and Mani's son Jose K Mani for the post of party chairman led to total confusion among the party’s ranks and its supporters.
The fight between the two leaders for supremacy reached such heights that it brought the party almost on the verge of a split. Though the split was averted with the intervention of senior UDF leaders, Joseph refused to grant the two leaves symbol of the party to party nominee Jose Pulikunnel, forcing him to contest on the pineapple symbol.
The UDF also view the fall in the BJP vote share from 24,821 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections to 18,044 votes this time as a major factor for the LDF candidate’s victory. The KC(M) candidate and some other UDF leaders even alleged vote-trading by the local BJP leadership behind the wind. The LDF, however, dismissed the allegation.
Senior CPM leader and Public Works Minister K Sudhakaran said that the BJP workers voted for his party candidate as they were disenchanted with the saffron party.
Political observers too had expected a better show by the BJP in Pala since a faction of Kerala led by Poonjar MLA PC George had aligned with the saffron party-led NDA. George, who wields considerable influence in central Kerala, admitted that his supporters had openly worked for the victory of the LDF out of sympathy for Kappen, who was defeated thrice in Pala earlier.
George said that there was nothing much for the LDF to cheer from the victory as it was a personal victory of Kappen, who was able to reduce the gap between him and KM Mani in the last three elections he had contested in Pala.
The return of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the induction of V Muralidharan, a senior leader from Kerala, in his Council of Ministers was also expected to work in favour of the BJP. The dismal performance of the party's candidate shows that it had no effect on the people in the state.
However, political analysts are not ready to dismiss BJP as a force since the contest in a by-election is always between the front runners. Chekutty said that the BJP had not fared well in any of the by-elections held since the last Assembly election. He pointed out that the vote share of BJP candidates in Vengara and Chengannur Assembly constituencies too were lower compared to the party's previous performance.
He feels that the BJP may be able to improve their performance in Vattiyoorkavu and Manjeshwaram since the party had ended as a close runner in these seats in past elections.
If the BJP is able to win the two seats, it may alter the course of politics in the state to a great extent, he says.
All eyes are now focused on the coming by-election in the five constituencies.
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