Rahul’s contesting from Wayanad has sent shockwaves in the camps of the Left Front and the National Democratic Alliance in Kerala. Notably it is not Wayanad results that worried them but the probable impact of Rahul’s entry into Kerala poll fray in the rest of the 19 constituencies.
This is the first time a prime ministerial aspirant and President of the Indian National Congress is choosing a Kerala constituency which in itself has an impact on the minds of voters. There is a distinct possibility of consolidation of minority votes, judging by the initial reactions, which will affect the LDF in all the constituencies. Nehru family is a weakness to many in Kerala, some of whom have started to look up to Modi with expectations. Added to that is the glamour of Raga and his no hold bar attack on Namo. The flow of Congress votes to BJP may just be a trickle with Rahul’s entry. For both – the Red and Saffron parties – politically it was not welcome news.
True Rahul vacillated after initial announcement of his candidature by enthusiastic Kerala leaders. Opposition from two Sharads – Pawar and Yadav – that his candidature may send a wrong message, echoing the CPIM leaders – did make him to go in for more consultation. He was told that Pawar himself did not give a seat to CPIM in Maharashtra. Sharad Yadav ‘s RJD too did not give any seat to the Left in Bihar. The most important factor to contest in two constituencies was the not so comfortable position in Amethi. Wayanad was chosen because it is a safe constituency from where the support extended was overwhelming. Finally Rahul took the decision on Sunday. The request from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka was met by the argument that Wayanad is a tri-junction of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala! At the same time, Rahul’s vacillation made many question his decision making capabilities and sticking to a decision after taking it. After all he is bidding for the top post in the country, they argued.
For Smriti Irani, Rahul’s rival in Amethi which he represents, it was music to her ears. A beaming Irani said, ”He is getting calls from everyone to contest because people of Amethi have rejected him” soon after the first announcement. Many leaders of the Parivar were thrilled, as it gave another campaign point to tear into the Congress. But President of the BJP in Kerala, Sreedharan Pillai, was not amused. He took no time to think in terms of putting up a strong candidate against Rahul in Wayanad and taking back the seat from its poll ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), political wing of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP Yogam) an organization of the powerful Ezhava community, numerically the biggest caste group in the state. Pillai wanted BJP to oppose Rahul and put up a very strong fight with all the Parivar descending on Wayanad and to give a tough time to the Congress President. Later he sounded Tushar Vellapally, son of Vellappally Natesan and chief of BDJS to be ready to contest from Wayanad, if the BJP two member high command decides so.
CPIM on the other hand came out with highly critical reactions. Most of its leaders reacted almost furiously. A normally unflappable chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan questioned the very decision on tactical and strategic points. Said Pinarayi, “The biggest leader of the Congress is coming to Kerala and taking on the Left. It’s not the BJP but the Left which has to be destroyed, this is the message that this contest will send out.” He saw a dilution of the Congress strategy of defeating the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections in the move. To be fair, a section of the Congress leaders too had reservation on Rahul contesting in Wayanad opposing the Left Front candidate belonging to the Commmunist Party of India, which had worked overtime to forge an alliance between the Left and the Congress along with secular forces to defeat the BJP. But they were in a microscopic minority in the party as the understanding in West Bengal broke up when it came to seat adjustments.
Pinarayi’s point about the political message was misplaced. For Pinarayi and the state CPIM chief, Kodiyeri were taking a position for over year that the “Congress and BJP are together in Kerala” to defeat the Left Front candidates. CPIM leaders too, as usual, echoed their leaders all over the state pointing to their identical views on the entry of women in reproductive age group to the Sabarimala Hill shrine. It is nothing new. CPIM tries to throw up such political fantasies during election times but the Kerala electorate familiar with such practices never gets influenced by such fiction.
The news of Rahul’s entry into the Wayanad election fray made the Marxist Acharyas pose the question on the sincerity of Congress’ position of united fight against the BJP to bring down the Modi government. The fact is that virtually the entire opposition has postponed the proposal to form the Mahaghatbhandan after the elections and vigorously pursue the strategy and tactics to get maximum members in the next Lok Sabha. Conflicting interests, ambitions, policies, etc – to name a few – prevented the formation of Mahaghatbhandan of non-BJP political parties before the elections resulting state-centric political formations. Once numbers are comfortable after the elections, an alliance on the basis of common minimum programme is possible though one is not sure of its endurance. But with the spirit of give and take a coalition cannot be ruled out if headed by a matured politician like Sharad Pawar. Even Congress showed such a spirit in Bangalore after the assembly elections.
For the Congress party, Rahul contesting from Kerala is like hitting a political jackpot. It would help them in all the 20 LS constituencies in the state. It is the first time Congress President and prime ministerial aspirant is contesting from the state. For the party it is a matter of great pride and the unanimous welcome by party members when the news was leaked shows how it has united the faction ridden party driven with personal feuds and rivalries. Incidentally the rivalries are such that even a suggestion from high command to send in a request to AICC inviting Rahul to contest from Wayanad and consent of the incumbent nominee in Wayanad, T. Siddique was announced by prominent leaders to demonstrate how close they are to the high command and the family. What the high command wanted was total secrecy and an announcement after the final decision was taken a day before or so of filing of nominations. After all a leader like Rahul does not need much campaigning in a constituency like Wayanad considered sure for the UDF in the state. Incidentally the high command is unhappy with the way the factional leaders fought for every seat, particularly for the Wayanad seat. Rahul actually wanted new faces and keep out septuagenarians but he could not affect the desired changes and bring in the new emerging young leaders in the state.
The fact is that Rahul has been looking for a safe constituency in South as the position in his “Karmabhumi” is not comfortable. He had won in Amethi parliamentary constituency in 2004 with a margin of over 2 lakh votes and did improve his position in 2009 with a margin of over 3.70 lakh votes. However the margin fell to 1.07 lakh votes in 2014 when he defeated Smriti Irani. Shockingly in the last assembly polls Congress lost in four of the five assembly segments of Amethi Parliamentary constituency!! In the last one year or so Rahul has not been able to do much for the Amethi constituency where as Smriti has made her presence felt in Amethi at every available opportunity. She has started her campaigning well in advance this time. In short, Rahul may be able to win but no spectacular victory is expected of the Congress President and prime ministerial aspirant.
On his last visit to Kerala two weeks ago Rahul wanted to assess for himself the Wayanad constituency but due to security reasons he was advised not to go there. The high command was convinced about the popularity of the Congress in Wayanad when the two leaders Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala fought like Kilkenny cats to get Wayanad for their nominees till the last minute. Senior leaders of the Congress stationed in Delhi too reported to Rahul about the favourable mood towards Congress in Wayanad. Also, his contesting in Wayanad would send a positive message to people in Kerala and whole of South. Karnataka’s request was considered but it would have meant straight fight against BJP which none wanted. DMK’s request to fight from Tamil Nadu too was considered but opinion in AICC weighed heavily in favour of contesting from Kerala, where some leaders even talked about a 20.0 result and a total sweep by the Congress!!
That apart, for the Congress, Rahul’s entry would lead to parachuting of national leaders from all over India to campaign for him. A number of them would campaign in nearby constituencies too. The fall out of these visits will naturally help other UDF candidates. Added to these advantages is the incumbency factor. Political violence, Sabarimala, CM’s office issuing directions without informing the concerned ministers, shocking performance of law enforcing agencies, could all have its impact. For BJP the biggest disadvantage is that the anticipated shift of Congress votes may not happen with Rahul entering the electoral fray.
Yes, Rahul is a factor in the Kerala elections. A factor so far not experienced by the state. Naturally the exact impact can be known only after results are out. As of now what is clear is both the CPIM and the BJP are on pins and needles, if not like a cat on a hot tin roof.