Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's dream of achieving a captain's knock of 100 has received a jolt as United Democratic Front candidate Uma Thomas storms to victory in the Thrikkakara bye-election. Uma Thomas, wife of the late Thrikkakara MLA PT Thomas whose demise in December last year had necessitated the bye-election, is set to win the seat by a margin of more than 20,000 votes, as per unofficial reports, over the ruling Left Democratic Frontâ€™s Dr Jo Joseph, a nominee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This is more than PT Thomasâ€™ victory margin of 14,329 in the 2021 general elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party had fielded AN Radhakrishnan, the partyâ€™s State Vice President, as their candidate.
When the counting completed seven rounds, Uma Thomas had won 43,075 votes and Jo Joseph 28,175 votes. Radhakrishnan secured 8,711. Thrikkakara, which traditionally aligns itself with the Congress, recorded a voting percentage of 68.77 when it went to polls on May 31, which is the lowest record for the urban constituency. In total, 1,35,320 votes were polled out of the 1,96,805 votes in the constituency.
Congress pulls all stops
For the UDF, which lost two consecutive Assembly elections in 2016 and 2021, the Thrikkakara bye-poll was a prestigious battle. The Congress brought its senior-most leaders to the field â€” including former former Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, and former ministers K Babu and Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan â€” pulling out all stops to retain power in the constituency that has stood with them since the delimitation exercise in 2011. The victory in the election was especially important for Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan, who had spearheaded the campaign. The bye-poll had been the Congressâ€™ first electoral battle after he assumed charge as the Leader of Opposition in May last year, following the partyâ€™s poll debacle.
However, though the Congress maintained that the candidature of Uma Thomas was unanimous, the party had faced serious criticism from inside over her candidature. Allegations were rife that Uma was picked as the candidate only because she was the wife of PT Thomas, thus hoping to generate a sympathy wave. The party managed to counter this by pointing out that she was a Kerala Studentsâ€™ Union leader in college.
Meanwhile, M B Muraleedharan, the General secretary of the Ernakulam District Congress Committee (DCC), who was critical of Uma's candidature, joined the CPI(M) camp and announced that he would work for the CPI(M)â€™s candidate. But the biggest jolt to the party came from KV Thomas, a former Union minister and senior Congress leader, whom the party had to expel because of his open support to Jo Joseph. Thomas also attended a public meeting in which Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was present during the early days of the campaign, but was conspicuous by his absence as the campaign progressed. Umaâ€™s candidature also met with criticism because PT had earlier spoken out publicly against dynasty politics, and political legacy being treated as family heirlooms.
LDFâ€™s all-hands-on-deck campaign
The ruling Left Democratic Front, led by the CPI(M), had come to power in the 2021 Assembly elections for a second consecutive time by winning 99 out of the total 140 seats. However, despite the fact that the peopleâ€™s mandate in Thrikkakara would not have made any significant impact on the stateâ€™s current power equation, the LDF had gone all out in the constituency with an election campaign of the do-or-die sort.
The powerful campaign was led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself who addressed massive crowds in multiple public meetings during the campaign. All the 20 ministers of the Pinarayi cabinet were assigned roles for campaign coordination, which included door-to-door visits. Most of the Left MLAs halted in Thrikkakara for several days, with the front attempting to cover up the political inexperience of Jo Joseph with an army of its leaders who flew to the constituency.
Senior leader of the CPI(M) P Rajeeve and vibrant face of the party M Swaraj led the campaign for Jo. Rajeeve is the Minister for Industries, while Swaraj is a former MLA who lost the 2021 Assembly elections from Tripunithura, another constituency in Ernakulam.
Setbacks for the CPI(M)
Meanwhile, there were allegations that Dr Jo was a protegĂ© of the Syro-Malabar Church, after he attended a press conference at the Lissie Hospital in Ernakulam where he works with leaders of the CPI(M) and a senior priest who helms the hospital. The Lisie hospital is an institution under the management of the Church.
The church leadership had denied the charges but the controversy refused to die down as a section of the laity believed that the Left candidate had the blessings of Mar George Cardinal Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church. Thrikkakara falls under the Ernakulam-angamaly archdiocese where laity organisations are engaged in a fight with the Church leadership over a host of issues.
AAP & Twenty20
In the run-up to the bye-poll, the Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal and the Twenty20, a corporate political entity helmed by Sabu M Jacob, which currently rules four panchayats in the Ernakulam district, announced a new political front called People's Welfare Alliance, but shied away from fielding a candidate in the bye-poll. They later announced that the alliance would not support either of the fronts and left the decision to the people's conscience. In the Assembly polls held in 2021, Twenty20 had secured 13,800 votes from the segment. Both of the two major fronts had claimed that the votes meant for AAP and Twenty20 would fall in their kitty, but the pullback seems to have favoured the UDF over the Left.
As part of their election campaign, both the Congress and the BJP had highlighted the statewide protests against the LDF governmentâ€™s ambitious SilverLine project, which proposes to directly connect the northern Kasaragod district to the southern Thiruvananthapuram and reduce the present travel time from 12 hours to four. In response, the LDF had stated that a win in the bye-poll would be an endorsement for the project, which has garnered criticism on account of the whopping costs and potential for environmental harm.
The project has proposed a station for the project in Thrikkakara, and the CPI(M) had stated that a vote for them would be a vote for development. The LDF government had decided to stop the controversial laying of stones for the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for Silverline as the campaign progressed. It had also distributed campaign material explaining the need of the project, but it was not highlighted in brochures or advertisements.