As the result of the Vengara bye-elections came out on Sunday morning, it was the kind of verdict that let both the LDF and the UDF claim a political victory.
UDF leaders were quick to celebrate the victory of the IUML candidate in the election despite recent developments in the solar scam case coming to haunt many leaders of the coalition. CPI (M) leaders, on the other hand, went into celebration mode after it emerged that the IUML’s lead in vote share has significantly dropped from the last election in what is a traditional UDF bastion.
The IUML’s KNA Khader emerged the winner in the bye-election with a lead of 23,310 votes. While he polled 65,227 votes, the LDF’s PP Basheer came in second with 41,917 votes. While this was still a victory with a big margin, it represents a drop of 14,747 votes in the margin by which the IUML’s Kunhalikutty had won the seat in the 2016 Assembly elections.
CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was quick to seize onto the massive drop in winning margin, and said that the IUML and the UDF had secured a victory only in the technical sense, while the verdict actually showed that the UDF’s support base was crumbling.
“The increase in the vote share of the LDF proves that the functioning of the Pinarayi Vijayan government has the backing of the people,” said Kodiyeri.
“The UDF was not able to maintain the lead that it had gained in the last Assembly elections. The lead of the UDF came down sharply in all panchayats in the constituency,” he added.
That the LDF had made political gains in one of the strongest constituencies in the state of the UDF proved that the Congress-led coalition was losing ground, he said. “It has been proven that the UDF has no future. The UDF has crumbled organisationally, while the political gain was for the LDF,” the CPI (M) leader said.
CPI (M) veteran VS Achuthanandan was also all praises for the LDF’s gains in Vengara. “What the LDF has gained is a big achievement,” VS said.
Congress and UDF leaders on the other hand, dismissed the claims of a political advance by the LDF. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala accused the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government of trying to undermine the UDF with the solar scam by announcing on the day of the Vengara polls that major Congress leaders would be prosecuted in the case. “The government tried to use the solar bomb to kill the chances of the UDF, yet it won,” Chennithala asserted.
Pointing out that the CPI (M)’s gains came at the same time as a drop in BJP votes (which came in fourth with just 5,728 votes), Chennithala accused the Left wing and the Right wing of working together to topple the UDF. “The CPI (M) also got the BJP votes. The tie-up between the CPI (M) and the BJP has been strengthening,” the Opposition Leader said.
As for the drop in its margin of victory, Chennithala attributed this to merely a difference off personalities than an erosion of party base. “Kunhalikutty could gain more votes in Vengara when he contested the election, because of his personal contacts there. It is not necessary that Khader should get an equal majority,” Chennithala argued.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president MM Hassan similarly dismissed any claims of an LDF advance, and argued that the CPI (M) was reading too much into a reduction of victory margin. "The CPI (M)’s argument that the UDF's majority has come down is just like the immediate relief a severely-wounded man gets when balms are first applied to his wound," Hassan countered.
The IUML’s victory, he added, was a rejection of the politics of both Pinarayi Vijayan in the state and of the Modi-led BJP in the Centre. “The result was the voters’ protest against the retaliatory politics of Pinarayi Vijayan, who launched the solar bomb on the day of the election. The result is also a strong caution against the economic breakdown and fascist agenda of the Modi government," Hassan said.
However, an isolated note of caution came from Congress MLA V Muraleedharan, who urged that the UDF should introspect on why its winning margins had fallen.