The by election scheduled in Kerala on October 21st is no small test for the UDF, which at the moment is trying to recover from the set back in Pala, an assembly constituency which it held onto for over half a century. There may be many reasons for the humiliating surrender in this central Travancore constituency but it does speak a lot about the dwindling support to the UDF and factions fights shot by ambitious leaders.
While the UDF has sorted out the issues relating to the factionalism in the three major parties of the UDF – Indian National Congress, Kerala Congress (M) and the Indian Union Muslim League – a lot more is needed to put up a united fight. First the three parties has to bring together its own rank and file, may be a minor issue in the Muslim League, as in all these constituencies a few thousand votes can make or mar the outcome. LDF on the other hand, has an initial advantage psychologically after the Pala victory, though with a small majority, and is moving ahead together with no major differences within or among the constituent partners. The selection of candidates was a major problem for the Congress where group leaders and parliamentarians were making an all out bid to push their proxies for party tickets, though in the recent days it appears there has been serious patch up bid by senior Margadarshis of the party. Normally, this is a usual feature in the Congress. Once candidates are announced, the party members work together for the success of its candidate. But reports in the recent days show that the differences are simmering and the dissidents are not mollified. The challenge from the younger elements in the IUML appears to be resolved at present. Thanks to Pala, though most of the leaders realize that divided they fall in Aroor, Konni and Vattiyurkavu if no serious steps are taken to patch up the differences in the Congress there could be problems. The recent statement of KPCC President, Mullappally Ramachandran speaks volumes: Victory or defeat in Aroor the responsibility is that of Adoor Prakash. The growing indiscipline can be traced to the week high command as well as central leaders not showing much of an interest in Kerala affairs these days. The campaign too so far has been lacklustre. No inspiring speeches to enthuse the rank and file, there are far too many acts of omission and commission by the LDF government.
The elections in the five constituencies of Vattiyurkavu, Aroor, Konni, Ernakulam and Manjeshwaram are mini Assemby elections, representing the three major regions of the state – Travancore, Kochi and Malabar. Needless to add, after the Pala results, the outcome of the five assembly segments will give an indication of the mood of the voters in the State. To perform well is important for the UDF, with the state assembly elections fast approaching, particularly after the Pala debacle. For the LDF, another impressive electoral performance on October 21 polls would be a major advantage on the eve of the State assembly elections.
A word about the BJP too, though the BJP is the unchallenged political force in Northern India and Karnataka in the South, in Kerala at the moment the party is not performing all that well thanks to the groupism in the saffron party. Like in the CPIM, in the BJP too, the Kannur group is controlling the party as well as the deciding factor on selection of candidates. The humiliation of a highly respected leader like Kummanam Rajashekharan who was persuaded to contest from Vattiyurkavu and when he reluctantly agreed, he was told about the decision to withdraw his candidature from Vatiyurkkavu by the central leadership which underlined the growing importance and influence of the Kannur leaders. There are many unhappy senior veterans in the party and how the rank and file will behave will be known after the counting of votes. Maybe, party strongman, Amit Shah, can effectively intervene.
But the problem before the party is that it has done precious little to bring out a central legislation to protect the traditions, conventions and rituals of Sabarimala, though Narendra Modi had promised such a legislation during the campaign. Another aspect is that secular forces are strong in the state where there is a strong minority presence close to 50 per cent. Its own alliance partners are not fully with the BJP. To be fair, the party has a strong presence in Vattiyurkavu and Manjeshwaram, but even some of the party members after the selection of candidates do not share the optimism. But none can deny that the party’s support base is increasing.
In the case of the UDF, the ground level realities do favour the Front. They have far too many arrows in their quiver thanks to the major administrative lapses, policy paralysis, authoritarian ways and poor state of the economy. The measures introduced to promote development not only have not succeeded but is threatening to be a scandal. In the field of law and order too the performance has been disappointing. In the recent major natural calamity, the government could not cope up with the situation, notwithstanding bombastic claims. The caste and communal factors too favour the UDF. But how it will be effective in the campaign is the prime question. How many of its national level veterans will take part in the campaign is also a factor which is very important. How the state leadership will run the campaign effectively will be a major factor in the outcome of the five by elections.
The LDF has well oiled electoral machinery and a strong cadre. However, it does need to be careful about its motor mouths, which can aid the UDF in the campaign like a recent remark by an Alleppey leader. Misuse of authority at the local self government levels by party members, settling scores by these persons and the misdemeanours of its youth wing would be a major headache for the LDF. However, to be fair, the candidates of the LDF are formidable ones with a fairly good image if one goes by the reports.
Be that as it may, the challenge is for the Congress. A resounding victory is a must both at the State and Central level. It has favourable factors but how the leaders would make use of it is the question. One silver lining is that the debacle in Pala has made some important leaders of the Congress and UDF partners realize the importance of a united, committed and determined campaign. Another debacle can have adverse consequences and affect the morale of the cadre. One cannot rule out the possibility of party members moving towards greener pastures.