The demise of sitting CPI (M) legislator KK Ramachandran Nair on Sunday has thrown up a political challenge for the three political fronts in Kerala, as the bye-election could prove to be a dress rehearsal for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state.
Chengannur in Alappuzha district has traditionally been a Congress stronghold for several decades. But during the 2016 May assembly polls, it turned out to be an unexpected jolt for young popular Congress legislator PC Vishnunath, who was aiming for a hat trick of victories but had to bite the dust against Nair, who won with a majority of over 7,000 votes.
While Nair won with 52,880 votes, Vishnunath got 44,987 votes, and former state BJP president P. Sreedharan Pillai came a close third with 42,682 votes.
In the 2016 polls, the Oommen Chandy government - hit by a few corruption cases - was defeated by the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front which won with a huge majority.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's government, which completes 20 months in office, has seen the resignation of three ministers. With demonetisation, GST and the frequent hike in fuel prices all affecting the common man, all the three fronts will be eager to prove their point.
In all probability, the Congress is set to field Vishnunath. The CPI (M) has already started scouting for candidates, and the frontrunners include former Lok Sabha member CS Sujatha, CPI (M) Alappuzha district secretary Saji Cheriyan and even the widow of Nair. The CPI (M) cannot afford to lose the seat, as it would be a telling blow to the governance of Vijayan and could mar the fortunes of the CPI (M) in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The CPI (M) national leadership is placing high hopes to get maximum number of seats from Kerala.
In his debut election in 2006, Vishnunath beat Cheriyan and in the 2011 polls, he had defeated Sujatha.
According to sources in the BJP, while Pillai is not very keen to contest again, the mantle is most likely to fall on him as he appears the most suitable candidate as he hails from the constituency and has a general acceptance.
A reason for cheer for the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is that last year, the second biggest party in the coalition, the Indian Union Muslim League, won the Malappuram Lok Sabha and the Vengara assembly bye-election.