The nomination of Kerala Congress (M) candidate resulted in bad blood, thanks to the intransigent position taken by the two leaders of the party factions and ineffective intervention by the UDF nominees. Had it been handled better by the UDF and the had the two leaders – Jose and Joseph – taken a give and take position there could have been unanimity over the candidate and the symbol as the issue was not a Gordian knot.
UDF leaders who intervened in the matter should have taken a tough position and persuaded the two factions on the need for unity to put up a good fight in the election. But the UDF leadership took things for granted with the belief that at the last minute everything will fall into place. Ultimately what came about was an understanding: Agree to disagree and not an agreement to work together and fight the election to win.
The prime error was the belief of the UDF leaders in the calculation that the situation in the LS poll time continues and that the UDF can have a cakewalk in Pala. The continued goodwill of Mani Sr, Pinarayi’s reiteration that the there is no change in Sabarimala policy and his statement that the election result would be a verdict on the UDF rule they thought would all provide the icing on the victory cake.
It may or may or not; but the fiasco over the management of the nomination of the Kerala Congress candidate and ultimately losing the two-leaf symbol will have its impact in the outcome, marginally or otherwise. If only the UDF leaders could have persuaded Jose K. Mani, a person amiable and willing to listen to reason, not to put up Pulikunnel who is suspended from the party. Will any leader agree to nominate or endorse a candidate he has suspended? Will Ramesh Chennithala, Oommen Chandy or Kunhali Kutty agree to such an ignominable act? Unlikely.
At least at the last minute, had the UDF leaders advised Jose K. Mani that there was not much of a material difference if Joseph signs the nomination form allotting the two leaf symbol as Working President, In-charge President or an expression similar to that, there could have been a compromise. After all P.J. Joseph, an old war horse, after thwarting all the moves of Jose, as ill advised by the UDF leaders, finally attended the UDF inaugural convention, endorsed the candidature of Pulikunnel, who had made a statement that he is not bothered about the symbol and his symbol was K.M.Mani, a stand endorsed by Ramesh Chennithala too openly, if reports are to be believed.
The writing on the wall is clear: the fight in Pala is tough. Kappan is all around the constituency. BJP has put up a Hindu candidate with an eye on consolidating the votes of the community and have the support of P.J. Joseph and P.C. Thomas who can chip in some votes. But the UDF leaders should remember even now that the majority Mani Sir won last time was with a little over 4000 votes.
What cannot be ignored is that Pinarayi Vijayan’s timely help to Tushaar Vellappally in Dubai has made senior Vellappally, Natesan, indebted to the Chief Minister. He is sure to do his best to consolidate the Ezhava votes, though one is not sure how many votes he can command among the Ezhavas, particularly after the controversial statement of Pinarayi reiterating his position on Sabarimala.
One trump card the UDF is planning is to get Rahul Gandhi to campaign, which may have an impact. But will he agree for a week long campaign as planned, is to be seen. Further, his campaign is likely to be, if one goes by what he did in Wayanad, to be silent over the failures of the LDF government and the way the CPM withdrew support to the UPA 2 headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Be that as it may, the goodwill enjoyed by Mani Sir may help the UDF this time too. But the CPIM is sure to try to tarnish UDF images, often hitting below belt during election campaigns. It is another matter that CPIM wanted late K.M. Mani to join them in the last assembly elections and the friendly persuasions and pressures made him stay back in the UDF though he was hurt by the behavior of some UDF cabinet colleagues.
Though a by-election, this one will be fought fiercely if one goes by the background preparations. Breaking convention, even top most leaders of political parties may take part in the campaign in this by-election. It is a prestige fight for both the UDF and LDF. For the BJP, it offers an opportunity to put up a good fight, though Modi government has not done anything to legally protect the traditions, practices and grand old rituals of the hill shrine, though after re election NDA has brought about many controversial new laws demonstrating its will and determination. Why it failed in giving the promised protection to Sabarimala traditions and practices by Narendra Modi would be an important argument in the campaign of LDF and UDF leaders.
Pandalam Raja has already come out against the LDF. Then, the position of the NSS is yet not clear. Since BJP has failed to take any steps to protect the customs of Sabarimala, it would be interesting to watch how these two major groups will vote in the Pala elections.
The loss of symbol and the faction fights in the Kerala Congress (M) has made a bad beginning for the UDF undoubtedly, in spite of hasty damage control by P.J. Joseph. The hurt feelings of supporters of Mani Sir demonstrated in the UDF inaugural convention shows that a lot more efforts are needed to unify the rank and file of the Front.
Perhaps, those who choose to agree to disagree may kiss and make up soon and enter the electoral fray unitedly.