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Unprecedented reception to Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad shows just whom minorities will back in Kerala; BJP, CPM on backfoot

The biggest takeaway from the unprecedented reception that Congress president Rahul Gandhi received in Wayanad on Thursday where he submitted his nomination papers for the Lok Sabha elections is that the minorities, particularly the Muslims, are going to firmly back the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

Kerala has never witnessed such scenes of exultation that accompanied Rahul's visit and all Malayalam TV channels, except the party outfits of the CPM and the BJP, kept telecasting them live for hours on end. In fact, Rahul's visit eclipsed everything else in the media space today.

What was most conspicuous was that it was not only the Congress workers or the general public that wanted to have a glimpse of the party chief and be part of the jubilation, but also the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) who wanted to show their solidarity. IUML is a long-lasting partner of the Congress within the UDF, but this time, they literally owned Rahul. They were unfettered in their enthusiasm.

They travelled from far away places, even from outside the district, and exclaimed that it was their "good luck" that Rahul chose to contest from this part of the country. The Muslim population in the constituency is remarkably higher than the state average of 27 percent (some computing it at about 48 percent, higher than even the share of the Hindu voters and obviously the show of strength that the constituency witnessed was a statement of their solidarity and resistance.

Right from the beginning, it has been the Muslim League that wanted Rahul as the UDF candidate in Wayanad, as much as the Congress did. In fact, they were a little disappointed when a few disgruntled Congress leaders from Kerala tried to sabotage the move in Delhi for settling personal scores and the announcement of his candidature was delayed.

If the obvious message from the Muslims is that Rahul is their icon, it’s an indication that they consider him as the pivot of their resistance against the BJP at the national level. The rival CPM has been campaigning that Rahul's choosing Wayanad was a clear sign that he is not serious about the BJP, an opportunistic political pitch obviously aimed at polarising the minority votes. But by rallying behind him, the Muslims showed that they think exactly the opposite and it’s a shot in the arm for the UDF.

The CPM's contention that Rahul is being serious about the BJP was a bogus argument to skew the political narrative and to make the minorities suspicious of his intent. CPM has been working hard, mostly through realpolitik, at wooing the minorities, namely the Muslims and the Christians, but with very limited success. The party had been able to bring down the vote-share of the UDF (Congress) candidate in Wayanad in 2014 compared to 2009, but in the Muslim and Christian belt, UDF still rules the roost.

 Unprecedented reception to Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad shows just whom minorities will back in Kerala; BJP, CPM on backfoot

Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad submitting his nomination papers. PTI

The CPM's ploy of disrupting this was to outsource the candidature in key locations to people with influence in the community based on completely non-political considerations. In the recent past, it had fielded a movie actor, a TV news-presenter and businessmen accused of land-grabs and environment law violations and had even managed to break in. It has repeated the same strategy this time, as well. However, with Rahul fighting from the state, emerging as the bulwark against the BJP across India and hence energising the minorities, this strategy will face a serious threat.

Besides the support of the minorities, another factor that would influence voter-preference this time will be the undercurrent generated by the Sabarimala issue. Early opinion surveys claim that Sabarimala indeed will be an issue and that the BJP will harness the believer-sentiments to raise its vote-share by a few percentage points. The general belief or narrative in the state is that if the BJP gets Hindu votes, the most affected will the Congress and the UDF.

In fact, it happened to be true in the last elections because wherever the Congress and the UDF lost their strongholds or lost by small margins, the BJP had eaten into their vote-base. If the BJP raises its vote-share further, it cannot be only at the cost of the UDF any more, but also of that of the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) because it has more Hindu voters than the UDF.

The evidence from the violent protests in Sabarimala has shown that it was not only the upper-caste Hindus who were incensed by the ruling LDF government's enthusiasm in letting young women enter the hill-shrine, but also members of other castes who are numerically more. In fact, there were more non-upper-caste protesters in Sabarimala.

So, if Sabarimala indeed is an undercurrent and the BJP’s vote-share rises by 5-6 percentage points as has been predicted by opinion polls, the LDF will have to certainly lose some of its Hindu votes.

This is where the backing of minorities will help the UDF. Rahul's presence in Kerala and the enthusiastic support of the Muslims is a message that seems to have made a solid impression. If the Rahul-wave that the Wayanad saw today spreads across the state — which the Congress, the IUML and others in the UDF believe will do — the CPM and the LDF will be in trouble. They may even lose ground in their pocket-boroughs and in places where they have succeeded in the communal outsourcing of candidates.

In fact, a third opinion survey in the state by the Malayala Manorama group (after Asianet News and Times Now) also seem to point to such an outcome. On Monday, they announced the results to half the constituencies in the state and said seven out of 10 will go with the UDF.

But that was pre-Rahul. If one adds the Rahul factor, a clean sweep for the UDF cannot be ruled out because in the post-emergency elections, when the entire country was opposed to the Congress and Indira Gandhi, Kerala posted a 100 percent victory for the Congress-led front. Will history repeat itself?

The CPM seems to be desperate. After terming Rahul’s candidature as a sign of his turning away from the BJP, the party-paper editorially ridiculed him as "Pappu", a pejorative term that the BJP had invented. VS Achuthanandan, former chief minister and veteran CPM leader called him 'Amul Baby'. But in response, Rahul said that he will absorb all the tarts of the CPM, but will not utter a single word against them. That was another disarming, or rather a charming move.

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Updated Date: Apr 04, 2019 15:31:35 IST

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