NEW DELHI: The recent byelections to five Assembly constituencies in Kerala saw the ruling CPM win two and the opposition United Democratic Front win the rest of the three. The BJP drew a blank, even witnessing depletion in its vote share, especially in two constituencies, Manjeswaram in the north and Vattiyoorkkavu in the south. But the real winners were the voters of Kerala. They preferred to pick and choose not by the colour of the party, but by merit of the candidate. In the process Congress lost two sure seats, Vattiyoorkkavu in Thiruvananthapuram and Konni in Pathanamthitta and the CPM, one of its traditional bastions, Aroor in Alappuzha. The BJP, which had lost in Manjeswram by just 89 votes last time conceded defeat by a margin of 7,923 votes this time. In Vattiyoorkkavu, the party was pushed to te third position. In Konni, where the party had a better chance in the light of its Sabarimala agitation, firebrand leader K. Surendran could only improve upon the party vote share. Four of the polls were necessitated after the sitting MLAs—three from Congress and one from CPM—got elected to the Lok Sabha early this year, while the fifth bypoll was required following the death of the IUML legislator. With the two seats, the LDF tally in the Assembly rose to 93 of the total 140. So in a way the byelections were inconsequential in terms of the power structure of both fronts, but it gave an indicator as to the voters’ preference, especially after the drubbing of LDF in the general elections. If Sabarimala was the core issue in the Lok Sabha elections, it rarely came up this time. Strangely, it was the Congress, and not the BJP, which unsuccessfully tried to rake up the Sabarimala issue.

Still, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said this was a victory for secular politics. “The results show caste and community forces do not have any influence in Kerala, and secular politics have a clear victory over such forces,” he said. While yet another BJP-bashing might have fetched him applause from comrades, the voters in Kerala saw through the double standards of the CPM. For, in Manjeswaram, the CPM chose to put up an out and out Lord Ayyappa devotee, who went to the local temple before filing his nomination, in the hope of cutting into the traditional BJP believers’ vote bank. The CPM candidate also made a point to call on his BJP rival, touched his feet and sought his blessings. The Chief Minister went there and made a speech warning other parties not to appropriate the Hindu. “Has anyone given the right of the Hindu to the Opposition leader who calls our candidate a pseudo-Hindu? Shankar Rai, the LDF candidate, was not tied to the thread. He was born and raised on this soil,” Vijayan had said. The Opposition had come out to attack Rai personally because they were sure that he would win the election, Vijayan said. When the results came, Rai was languishing in third position. The CPM also made no bones about soliciting the Ezhava vote for its candidate in Aroor. It too backfired. Congress also had its share of putting the blame onto the Sangh Parivar for its losses. Senior leader K Muraleedharan has alleged that the LDF won the Vattiyoorkkavu seat due to RSS cross voting. “LDF claims to be secular, but accepted RSS votes and this resulted in their victory,” Muraleedharan said. But he also said that the BJP had disappeared from the campaign scene in Vattiyoorkkavu after Kummanam Rajasekharan was replaced at the last moment; a factor which many observers believe was true.

However, the twist in the tale of this byelection is the shambolic role played out by the Nair Service Society. The NSS general secretary G. Sukumaran Nair had given a clarion call to all Nairs to come out and vote for the Congress in Vattiyoorkkavu and Konni. This was quite surprising since NSS claims to be non partisan. “While the NSS has always maintained equidistance to all political parties, the organisation is forced to shift towards the right distance so as to protect democracy, secularism, social justice, faith in God, customs and rituals,” Nair had said. Though Sukumaran Nair did not name any political party or coalition in particular, he lashed out at both the LDF and the BJP. While he charged the ruling Left Front with “attempting to divide people as savarnas and avarnas and trigger differences as upper and backward classes to make political gains”, he came down heavily on the BJP for its double standards on the Sabarimala issue. “The BJP-led Central government could have very well resolved the Sabrimala issue through an ordinance or enactment of an Act…instead it is trying to hoodwink people. The BJP has not taken any sincere efforts in protecting the faith of the people,” he said. Congress did not lose any time to interpret the “right distance” as a tilt in its favour and welcomed Sukumaran Nair statement wholeheartedly. The CPM and the BJP roundly condemned the statement. For the BJP it was some kind of a shock treatment, for it always thought the NSS was with the party. However, the voters, Nairs included, had the last laugh. NSS’ “right distance” turned out to be catastrophic for the Congress, with the party losing two ultra sure seats. Now NSS is threatening to adopt the “right distance” in the next Assembly elections too. After all, Sukumaran Nair has the right to prove his stand is right. And the Congress to believe in it!

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