Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest a second seat in Wayanad has changed the electoral scene in Kerala, where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is fighting for its existence as a national party and the Bharatiya Janata Party for opening its account in south India in the Lok Sabha.
Though pre-poll surveys had found the Sabarimala issue, played up by the Sangh Parivar for electoral gains of the BJP, benefitting the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), the revival of the infighting in the state unit of the Congress over the selection of candidates had cast shadows over the party’s electoral prospects.
The infighting was at its worst in Wayanad, where T Siddique, a nominee of the group led by former chief minister Oommen Chandy, was fielded initially. The move to bring Rahul to the constituency was initiated after the rival group led by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala led an open revolt against Siddique.
The Communist Party of India (CPI), the second largest constituent of Left Democratic Front (LDF), which is contesting the Wayanad seat, was hoping to capitalise on the feud in Congress. However, Rahul’s entry has upset its calculations as it has forced the warring factions in the party to end their factional fights and mount a united fight in the constituency.
CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran has sought to put up a brave front, saying that Rahul’s candidature would not affect the prospect of his party candidate P Suneer. “The fight in Kerala is political. Individuals do not matter. Suneer will take on Rahul,” said Kanam, ruling out any change in the candidature in view of the Congress leader’s foray into the state.
Senior UDF leaders claim that Rahul will win the seat hands down. “He needs only to file his nomination. We will see to it that he will win the seat by a record margin,” said PK Kunhalikutty, national general secretary of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the party candidate in the neighbouring Malappuram constituency.
Wayanad had favoured the Congress ever since it was constituted in 2009 by carving out Nilambur, Ernad and Vandoor constituencies from Malappuram district, Mananthavady, Kalpetta and Sulthan Bathery from Wayanad district and Thiruvambady from Kozhikode district.
Congress leader MI Shanawaz had won the seat in the first election by a margin of over 1.5 lakh votes. He retained the seat in 2014, but with a much lesser margin of over 20,000 votes. However, four of the seven Assembly segments favoured the LDF in the 2016 Assembly elections.
Senior Congress leaders, including Congress Working Committee (CWC) member AK Antony, said Rahul’s candidature at Wayanad will have a ripple effect in all the 20 seats in the state and in many seats in the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Antony has exuded confidence that the presence of the prime ministerial candidate in the state will help the UDF win all 20 seats in Kerala. The pre-poll surveys had predicted 14 to 16 seats for the UDF in the state.
However, senior LDF leaders have pooh poohed the Congress claims, pointing out that the party had lost power at the Centre when late Indira Gandhi had contested polls from Chikmangalore in 1977 and Sonia Gandhi from Bellary in 1999. LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan said the party will meet the same fate this time.
Congress and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (AIADMK) together had swept Tamil Nadu in 1977 by winning 34 out of 39 seats and Karnataka by winning 26 out of 28 seats. The Congress and its allies had won 13 seats in Tamil Nadu and 18 seats in Karnataka in 1999, when Sonia Gandhi contested from the South.
Congress had drawn a blank in previous two elections in 1996 and 1998 while it won five and nine seats in Karnataka in the two elections. In Kerala, the Congress-led coalition, which also included the CPI, had won 19 out of 20 seats in 1977 and 11 seats in 1999.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that Rahul’s contest from Wayanad will not make any significant impact on the outcome this time. On the contrary, it would send a wrong message to the electorate across the country and it may even prove detrimental to the party nationally, he said.
“The fight in Kerala is between the LDF and the UDF. With his move to contest the poll from Wayanad, Rahul is sending out a message that it is not the BJP that the Congress is fighting, but the LDF. The party needs to think what kind of the message they are trying to send out to the nation,” Vijayan said.
Congress shot back, saying that Wayanad was ideal to represent the south as it was a tri-junction of three southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
BJP has described Rahul's decision to contest from Wayanad as an escape from Amethi due to fear of defeat against Union minister Smriti Irani. State BJP chief PS Sreedharan Pillai said they will not allow Rahul to have an easy victory in Wayanad.
“We have requested our national leadership to put up a candidate with a national stature in the constituency. The Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), which was allotted the seat, has already given its consent to withdraw their candidate in the wake of the declaration of Rahul Gandhi’s candidature,” he added.
He said that Wayanad was selected by Rahul as it had more than 60 percent minorities, majority of them Muslims. His candidature in Wayanad is a total surrender to the IUML, which has been vocal in the demand for Rahul’s entry in the fray in Wayanad, he said.
Rahul’s entry in Wayanad may force the LDF and the NDA to redraw their strategies to face the resurgent UDF. Political observers feel that the presence of Rahul, a staunch critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the fray in Kerala will rob the LDF of one of its major poll planks — secret pact between Congress and the BJP. The CPM and its allies have been spreading the propaganda to woo minorities, who constitute 46 percent of the population in the state.
Jacob George, a Thiruvananthapuram-based political analyst, said that the entry of Rahul may compel the BJP to rethink its strategy to bank on the Sabarimala issue. He says that Rahul’s candidature may force the saffron party to counter the Congress leader’s charges against Modi and his government.
The five southern states and one union territory is crucial for BJP to retain power at the Centre. The party is eyeing 50-60 of the 130 seats from the south to compensate for the loss being anticipated by the NDA in the Hindi heartland in the Lok Sabha polls.
The saffron party and its allies had won 211 out of 245 seats in the ten states in the Hindi heartland and Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir in 2014, leaving only 34 seats to its opponents. Poll pundits feel the saffron tally could plummet by 70 percent in the Hindi heartland this time.
The party was expecting at least four seats from Kerala in 2019. Jacob believes that the party may have to wait even for the lotus to bloom in the state if Rahul’s candidature fuels a wave as predicted by the Congress leaders.
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Updated Date: Apr 01, 2019 10:45:43 IST