The unpredicted victory of Left Democratic Front (LDF) lead by CPM and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan could prove to be a game-changer in Kerala politics. The Pala bypoll results actually came out as a hit on the head for United Democratic Front [UDF] Opposition lead by Congress which expected a winning spree after the parliamentary elections, despite all the infighting of Kerala Congress factions under the aegis of party veterans P J Joseph and Jose K.Mani, MP.
This debacle will definitely create discomfort in the campaigning of upcoming by elections for UDF. For the time being, for the sake of five bypolls, the UDF leadership may keep restraint, but there are ample indications that Congress state as well as Central leadership will step intervene. It is reliably learnt that Congress state leadership has already conveyed a strong message of ‘swim together or sink together’ to both the factions of Kerala Congress(M). The Congress has decided to keep an equi-distant approach towards the two groups to avoid further escalation of tension on the eve of crucial by elections.
Just minutes after the poll results were announced, the Congress state leaders came out and publicly blamed Kerala Congress group rivalry for the surprise defeat. Along with the Congress leaders, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leadership also made it clear that both Kerala Congress factions have to bear the responsibility of the defeat. According to other UDF partners, the factional feud within the Kerala Congress(M)has cost the UDF very badly, giving a breather to the LDF which was almost decimated in the last Lok Sabha elections which were held a few months ago.
The inner party squabbles and rivalries affecting the coalition’s poll prospects wasn’t a new experience to UDF, but what actually worries them is the feeling that the debacle may affect the possibilities of Congress in all ensuing elections.
Despite the strong message sent by the ‘Big Brother’ Congress and humiliating defeat suffered in the home turf-PALA-which had stood with K.M Mani for more than half a century, the rival groups of Kerala Congress (M ) are in no mood for a cease-fire. The mudslinging and no –holds-barred attack between two groups, which started along with the declaration of election, continued with the same intensity on the second day of poll results. The faction led by Jose.K.Mani , which bore the brunt of the electoral set back is keeping an acrimonious position and sending out a message that they are not willing to ameliorate the strained relations with P J Joseph. How the Congress leadership handles the Kerala Congress imbroglio to a some extent will decide the poll prospects of UDF in the near future.
On the other hand LDF claims that it was the development agenda put forward by the state government headed by Pinarayi Vijayan that gifted them the spectacular victory. The Chief Minister stated that poll result of Pala by election is a mandate for the LDF government. He termed the LDF victory as a new beginning in the state. The result indicated that the UDF is losing ground even in its strongholds and LDF is strengthening its base –he pointed out. Apart from claims and counter- claims, the fact is that the LDF campaign fully banked on the fissures in Kerala Congress and never tried to fight the election politically. However one thing is true there is no second prize in electoral battles and military conflicts. And in Pala election LDF clinched the first prize. Boosted by the Pala victory LDF is planning to apply the tried and tested strategy in the upcoming by elections also. From the reactions of CPM leaders, it is evident that LDF is to concentrate their campaign on the disunity in UDF.
Another significant feature of Pala election is the erosion in the vote share of the BJP and NDA. Due to the organisational weakness, faction ridden state unit and lacklustre leadership, the BJP failed miserably to become even a silhouette of their central leadership. Actually the by election made the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a divided house. Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), one of the partners of N.D.A., has given indications that they are parting with BJP. BDJS moving out may not weaken the NDA as the expected shifting of Ezhava votes remained with the CPIM, a fact which was obliquely referred to after the election by no less a person than Kodiyeri Balakrishnan,CPIM state secretary who acknowledged that the support of the SNDP did contribute LDF’s Pala victory. The immediate task before the BJP is how to appease BDJS from their aggressive positions. The NDA which secured 24,828 votes in the 2016 Assembly election and 26,533 votes in the Lok-Sabha election managed to get only 18,044 votes this time. Before the vote counting, the bickering and infighting in the BJP Pala Assembly committee had come out in the open. Allegations of vote trading were also levelled by party leaders against each other. Allegations of vote trade is a never ending curse for BJP Kerala state Unit. There are enough chances that the monster of vote transfer may pave the way for heated discourses in the party.