At the end of counting on Thursday all charges evaporated in thin air with a more aggressive Vijayan berating newspersons for their ‘false campaigns’.
CPM’s unexpected victory in Kerala’s Chengannur byelection has given Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan some much needed political breathing space. Nothing was in favour of the Left Front months ahead of the bypoll. The Opposition and the media were breathing down the neck of the Chief Minister. Police atrocities were on the rise by the day. The two-year track record of the Vijayan government was abysmal when it came to human rights. From the “unnatural” death of an engineering student, Jishnu Pranoy, in Thrissur last January to the cold blooded murder of an innocent youth, Sreejith, in Varappuzha, Kochi, this April, the government was on the defensive. The Chief Minister was under pressure to give up the controversial home portfolio. Resentment was growing even within the Left Front over the style of the CM’s functioning, with CPI, the second largest partner in the front, being at the forefront. At the end of counting on Thursday evening all these charges evaporated in thin air with a more aggressive Vijayan berating newspersons for their “false campaigns” against the government and saying Chengannur proved that he had the support of the people. “People are the ultimate judges, not anchors on TV channels,” he said sarcastically. While the LDF candidate won by a huge margin of 20,956 votes compared to 7,983 in 2016; a record of sorts for this constituency, the BJP tally came down to 35,270 from 42,682 last time. Congress added just over 2,000 votes more than the previous total of 44,897.
More than politics, it was the communal element that was more visible in the constituency. Hence it is Vijayan’s claim that the LDF had not resorted to communal appeasement of any sort in the elections that will be contested in the days to come. Right from the word go, CPM played its communal card very well. Selection of a Christian candidate itself shows that. The idea was to tap maximum of the 26% Christian vote in the constituency. While conducting house-to-house campaigns, CPM took care to deploy leaders belonging to particular castes to cover particular areas, such as caste Hindu houses were visited by caste Hindu leaders, Ezhava Hindu houses by Ezhava leaders, etc. The common refrain was that the Congress candidate was a Sangh Parivar dummy and it was essential to defeat both Congress and BJP. The bogey of communalism worked well especially among Dalits and SC, ST communities. In this context, the decision of Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, the political wing of the Ezhavas, not to support BJP made the community go back to its traditional political base of CPM, making its victory decisive. But the masterstroke came from the CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan at the fag end of the campaign. His statement that the Congress candidate was in fact a dummy of the Sangh Parivar helped divide the Hindu vote, which otherwise would have gone to the BJP. So the consolidation of Christian and Ezhava votes in its favour and the division of rest of Hindu votes among Congress and BJP helped CPM pile up a huge total.
The unimaginative moves made by the central leadership of both BJP and Congress added muscle to the CPM campaign. It was BJP which made the wrong move at the wrong time first. BJP’s state president Kummanom Rajasekharan, who was spearheading the party’s campaign in Chengannur, was shunted out of the state just three days before the polling. The announcement of his posting as Governor of Mizoram came when Kummanom was addressing an election meeting. It was a total surprise for him and gave the impression down the line that he was not consulted at all before removing him, sending out a wrong signal to the cadre. It had a demoralising effect on party workers. CPM made full use of it saying the commander has fled even before the battle had begun. It is true that Kummanom did not succeed in ending factional feud within the party. But many wondered the timing of his removal. As political Kerala debated whether it was a punishment transfer or a promotion for Kummanom, BJP workers were left wondering what to do.
A somewhat similar fate awaited the Congress a day later. Former Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, the most popular Congress leader in the state, was shunted out by the high command a day before the polling. Chandy was busy in Chengannur, holding community meetings, when the news about his positing as general secretary of the party in charge of Andhra Pradesh came. It is still not clear whether Chandy, who has spent all 50 years of his political career in the state, is happy about the decision. But many Congress workers in the constituency were disappointed with the decision. His removal is also seen as an effort by the high command to end group politics within the state. Only time will tell whether Chandy will succeed in rejuvenating Congress in Andhra or whether his removal will aggravate Congress woes in the state.
But CPM no doubt has benefited the most from the untimely decision taken by the leadership of the opposition Congress and the BJP.