The election is a test for both the Left and the Congress, but it will also help us understand if the BJP has made inroads in the state and by how much.

Chengannur bye-polls Why this triangular contest is a litmus test for 2019 elections
news Politics Monday, May 28, 2018 - 19:07

The Chengannur bye-polls drew to a close on Monday, putting an end to the two-month high-decibel campaign the constituency was witness to.

The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the BJP threw themselves into the elections, necessitated by the death of CPI(M) legislator KK Ramachandran Nair. This bye-election in the state is being viewed as a litmus test for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The campaign, in fact, begun well in advance as the announcement of the date for the bye-poll was delayed.  

The LDF seemingly had the upper hand then, as it had started campaigning much before the Congress and BJP. But it wasn’t long before the other two parties caught up.

The CPI(M) fielded Alappuzha district secretary Saji Cherian. Saji is an active political figure in the constituency - after all, he started off as a student leader here. The Congress candidate, D Vijayakumar, is also a familiar face in the constituency and is viewed as an unassuming leader who never confronted the party leadership after being denied a seat in 1991.

The BJP, meanwhile, fielded PS Sreedharan Pillai. The former State President of the party won 42,682 votes in the last election, losing to the Congress candidate by just over 2,000 votes. The very fact that the BJP managed to win over 40,000 votes prompted the party to field Sreedharan Pillai in this bye-election as well. Sreedharan, who is from Venmani Panchayat in Chengannur, moved to Kozhikode a long time back.

BJP’s role

Many political commentators have said that the BJP will play a decisive role in the bye-election by splitting the Congress’ votes. This, commentators say, will benefit the Left.

While Congress leader AK Antony had said earlier that the Chengannur bye-poll is a direct fight between the Congress and the Left, Saji Cherian had disagreed and said the BJP is very much there in the fight.

“By excluding the BJP, Antony was hoping that the party wouldn’t split the Congress’ votes. Saji, by saying that the BJP is still in the race, is hoping the Congress votes are split for it will be favourable to his party,” said a political commentator.

The BJP has said that Sreedharan Pillai, as a local, could woo more voters. However, leaders like R Balakrishna Pillai of the Kerala Congress (B) took a dig at Pillai saying that if voters wanted to get things done, they would have to travel all the way until Kozhikode for the same.

D Vijayakumar acceptable figure for Hindus

Vijayakumar had two things working for him in the constituency - as a senior member of the Ayyappa Seva Sangham, an organisation that works with devotees travelling to Sabarimala, he has won acceptance among Hindus in the Assembly segment; moreover, Hindus who are more secular still view Congress as a party that can counter the BJP’s right-wing agenda.

Moreover, with the recent developments in Karnataka, voters in the constituency are of the opinion that the Congress can stand in the way of the BJP in the country. The fact that there is no factional feud within the Congress is another advantage for it.

KM Mani’s stand

Kerala Congress (M) head KM Mani, after weeks of speculation, said recently that his party would support the United Democratic Front in the election.

The CPI(M) had tried wooing Mani in the past, saying that it was open to the support of anyone who wanted to defeat the BJP and Congress. Although, the CPI(M) didn’t take to Mani’s decision too well, it can take comfort in the fact that the KC(M) does no have much vote share in Chengannur.

Community-based votes

The voters in the constituency are predominantly upper-class Christians, who make up 26% of the electorate.

Apart from this, Nairs constitute 24%, Muslims make up 6%, Ezhavas constitute 19% and Dalits 13%.

Christians over here, however, have historically voted for the Congress and the trend is expected to continue.

BDJS’ stand

The Bharat Dharma Jana Sena was an alliance of the BJP in the 2016 election. Floated by Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam General Secretary Vellappally Natesan, the political outfit now, however, has a strained relationship with BJP.

SNDP is the biggest organisation representing the Ezhava community in the state. The vote share of the community in the constituency comes up to around 40,000.  The party is expected to make major inroads here.

Total number of voters

As per the latest voters list, the total number of voters is 1,99,340. Among this, the number of male voters is 92,919 and female voters is 1,06,421. The number of first-time voters is 5,039 and those below the age of 40 is 73,335.

The 2016 result

In 2016, the Left, led by Ramachandran Nair in the constituency, won the polls. It had won in 8 panchayats - Aala, Budhanoor, Cherianad, Mannar, Mulakuzha, Puliyur, Venmani, Chennithala and Thripperumthura.

The UDF had come won in Chengannur Municipality and Pandanad Grama Panchayat. The BJP won a majority in Thiruvanvandoor panchayat.

Kummanam’s appointment as Governor

Though it is a personal gain for Kummanam Rajasekharan, President of the BJP in Kerala, who was named the Governor of Mizoram just days the before the polls, many in the political circle believe that he was elevated to save him from the embarrassment of BJP’s performance this time.   

The campaign

The campaign saw major leaders of all three parties rigorously campaign for the candidates in the bye-polls. Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala had told TNM that he was confident his party would win. “A Congress victory is guaranteed. All the factors are favourable to us. Right now, I am not predicting the majority. Let the election get over, and then I will do it.”

Read: VS Achuthanandan joins CPI(M) campaign for Chengannur bye-poll, attacks KM Mani

The campaign saw CPI(M) Politburo member Brinda Karat, BJP Chief Minister of Tripura Biplab Kumar Deb and Union Minister of State Alphons Kannanthanam coming to the constituency to campaign for their respective parties.

If the anti-incumbency wave works, then the Congress stands to gain. If the voters think that choosing the ruling front will help the constituency, then the Left stands to gain. The LDF has a comfortable majority in the Assembly, 91 members in the total 140-member assembly.

Hence, the result won’t make any real change in the ruling government, but would definitely be an assessment for both fronts and a test to see if the BJP has made inroads in the state.

The counting will be held on May 31.

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