Elections 2021

Kerala bypolls: LDF strikes deep within entrenched UDF territory, wrests two seats

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on October 24, 2019

Five Assembly constituencies had gone to polls on Monday, with the final tally reading LDF-2 and the UDF-3, with the latter managing to save its face in its citadel, Ernakulam

The ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) struck deep within entrenched territories of arch rival Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to wrest two crucial seats in the Kerala byelections. Five Assembly constituencies had gone to polls on Monday, with the final tally reading LDF-2 and the UDF-3, with the latter managing to save its face in its citadel, Ernakulam.

The LDF victory becomes well-rounded and authentic, coming as it does close on the heels of a smashing victory Pala, represented without by a break for 54 years by late KM Mani, the Kerala Congress (M) strongman.

BJP forfeits advantage

Elsewhere on Thursday, Shanimol Usman of the Congress returned the favour to the LDF by wresting the Aroor seat in Alappuzha from the latter, though with a slender margin. The NDA-BJP forfeited the advantage carefully nurtured after the 2016 Assembly Assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, to run up as an almost inconsequential third except in Manjeswaram in Kasaragod. The BJP had hoped to make it a tight fight in at least three constituencies - Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram; Konni in Pathanamthitta; and Manjeswaram. But in the end, the party failed to sufficiently motivate itself by building on the track record of O Rajagopal, who was elected its first MLA from Nemom in Thiruvanathapuram in the 2016 elections. A Minister of State under the Vajpayee government, nonagenarian Rajagopal had earlier given both the LDF and the UDF a run for their money in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party also seemed to have failed to encash the goodwill earned painstakingly by its colossus Kummanam Rajasekharan, formerly the state BJP President and Governor of Mizoram.

Creditable for LDF

The Congress did not help itself by merely scraping through its acknowledged fortress in Ernakulam even while claiming to have wrested Aroor from the CPI(M).  If anything has given it something to cheer, it is the success in sending a lone woman MLA in Shanimol Usman,  who had failed to make the grade on previous occasions. But credit should go to the LDF which was fighting not just a strong wave of anti-incumbency but also open war cries against it from the Nair Service Society (NSS), with varying claims of influence on the Hindu vote bank. The NSS had publicly sided with the Congress candidate Mohan Kumar - and significantly not the BJP which it had partnered with in the Sabarimala stir but chose to part ways later - even inviting the wrath of the State Election Commission. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took on the NSS by its horns, even as he was allegedly hobnobbing with the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) of the numerically strong but backward Ezhava community. Vellappally Natesan, General Secretary of the SNDP and supreme Ezhava leader, denied any truck with the LDF but it was clear as daylight as to where Ezhava sympathies lay and votes would go.

UDF - greatest loser

In a way, the UDF emerges as the greatest loser from the polls even as the BJP managed to hold on to the second position in Manjeswaram and seemed to make a fight of it in Konni (Pathanamthitta). Pathanamthitta is the home of the Sarabarimala shrine, and the BJP had deputed the Sabarimala movement hero K Surendran, the young and firebrand leader and an RSS darling, this time round. But he could not make much inroads since the Sabarimala issue did not emerge as a major poll issue even in Pathanamthitta, despite the UDF and the LDF making subtle moves to rake up the issue elsewhere. In the end, it did not seem to have mattered to the voters in all five constituencies that went to polls on Monday, as the voting pattern suggested a familiar bipolar contest between the LDF and UDF. The BJP appeared to play somewhat to its strength in Manjeswaram, but it has a hard time explaining the loss of thousands of votes in all the rest four. The final tally read as follows: UDF won three - (Majeswaram) with a margin of 7,923;  Ernakulam with a margin of 3,750; and Aroor, with 1,955. In comparison, LDF won resounding victories in at Vattiyoorkavu (Thiruvananthapuram) with a margin of 14,465 votes; and Konni (Pathanamthitta), by 9,953 votes.

Published on October 24, 2019

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