The Congress-led Opposition, unlike in the Lok Sabha polls and Pala bye-elections, has shifted focus from the Sabarimala issue.

Kerala bye-polls Marks scandal holds centre-stage as Opposition-LDF trade barbsFrom Left Suresh (BJP), Mohankumar (Congress) and Prasanth (CPIM) campaigning in Vattiyoorkavu.
news Politics Saturday, October 19, 2019 - 14:38
Announcements in moving vehicles narrating the promises of candidates, bike rallies of supporters carrying flags of the political parties they espouse, street plays, percussions… the areas in Thiruvananthapuram city that fall under the Vattiyoorkavu Assembly constituency have been witnessing a relentless campaign, with even pocket roads not being spared.

And with a total of five constituencies in Kerala going to bye-polls on October 21, the picture can’t be but the same for the other four constituencies too. Also, the campaign scenario is not less than that for general elections as senior leaders of all the three fronts — the UDF, LDF and the BJP — have been vigorously campaigning for their respective candidates.

Focus shifts from Sabarimala

For political enthusiasts, the political environment in the state would appear particularly interesting for the Opposition unleashed a scathing attack on Higher Education Minister KT Jaleel, accusing him of awarding grace marks to a student to pass examinations.

The Opposition has been keeping the pot boiling on this issue for several days as they want to target the youth, with an eye on the bye-elections. This time, the Opposition has shifted its focus from the government’s implementation of the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to conduct worship at the Sabarimala temple. In the Pala bye-elections held on September 23, the Opposition campaign’s crux was Sabarimala, for they viewed it as a betrayal by the government towards the believers.

In the Lok Sabha elections, all the talk was centred on Sabarimala, for it was the major poll campaign topic for both the Congress-led UDF and the BJP-led NDA. 

This time though, the importance of Sabarimala issue seems to have waned, with the marks scandal hogging the limelight.

The scandal over marks involving Jaleel was sparked off by Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala on October 14.

Chennithala (Left) and KT Jaleel 

The verbal fight between Chennithala and Jaleel has been ongoing ever since and it took a fresh turn on Thursday after Jaleel demanded a probe into Chennithala’s son clearing the civil service exams. At a press meet in Kasaragod, Jaleel, without naming Chennithala, said that lobbying was done in New Delhi for securing high scores for the son of a prominent leader from Kerala.

“The Opposition Leader himself should demand an inquiry into it. The transparency of not only the Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) exams but also that of UPSC exams is at stake,” he said, hinting at the Opposition’s repeated allegation that the Left government has damaged the credibility of the PSC. The minister added that the Left’s victory march in the bye-elections can’t be stopped by such gimmicks.

Chennithala reacted to it at a press meet in Kochi saying that Jaleel doesn’t even have basic knowledge about the civil service exams. He also challenged Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to break his silence on the issue and demanded that Jaleel should resign, apart from a judicial probe being ordered in the scandal.

“It’s to hide the marks scandal that Jaleel has now come out with the allegations about my son,” Chennithala said.

The crux of the allegation against the minister is that he and syndicate members of Mahatma Gandhi University went out of the way to award marks to some students to pass B.Tech examinations.

Jaleel has refuted the allegations saying that his intervention was to secure pass mark for students.

The syndicate of the varsity is dominated by members belonging to the Left parties.

An adalat (inquiry) conducted by the varsity in Kottayam in February this year, considered a petition by a B.Tech student of self-financing college, who sought grace marks for the supplementary examination.

The student's plea for the grace marks had been rejected by the private secretary. Chennithala has alleged that Jaleel's private secretary attended the adalat and directed to award grace marks to the student. Bu the minister had claimed that his private secretary was not present at the business session of the adalat. But a Facebook video on the adalat, which was circulated on Thursday, reportedly showed the presence of Jaleel's private secretary.

KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran flayed Jaleel saying the latter’s move, which is unheard of, would harm the credibility of university exams.

Credibility of Kerala Public Service Commission

This is another issue that has been kept alive by the Opposition, keeping an eye on the youth.

Three SFI members in August were barred for life from taking the PSC examinations after an Internal Vigilance Committee discovered major irregularities in the police constable examinations. Since the time the malpractice by the SFI workers stood exposed, the Opposition has not allowed the issue to die.

A prestige fight

The Assembly bye-elections are the third to be held in the state ever since the Left Democratic Front (LDF) came to power in May 2016. The LDF emerged victorious in the previous bye-polls for Chengannur held in May 2018 and the recent bye-polls in Pala. UDF’s ally, IUML’s PK Kunhalikutty won the Kerala Lok Sabha bye-polls held for Malappuram in April 2017 following the demise of MP E Ahamed.

Read: Major victory for LDF in Kerala, coalition wins Pala constituency after 40 years

The LDF has a comfortable majority of 94 seats in the 140-member Assembly and hence the bye-elections results won’t be a threat to the government. But the fight is a prestige issue for both the major fronts –the UDF and the LDF, for Kerala is one of the few states where both the Left and the Congress have a strong presence.