Early trends from Kerala by-poll indicates that the Congress Party needs a major operation if it is to come back to power in Kerala in 2021.
Of the four sitting seats held by the Congress that went to poll, it is set to lose two, retaining only Ernakulam.
On a positive note, it has put up a strong fight in Aroor, a sitting seat of the Left Front, where its candidate Shanimol Usman is currently leading.
In the Aroor seat, the Left Front had put up Manu Pulikkal from the backward Latin Catholic community, in place of AM Arif, who was elected to the Lok Sabha earlier this year.
This switch from a Muslim candidate to a Christian candidate may have resulted in a switch of at least some Muslim votes away from the LDF to the Congress.
Moreover, the LDF candidate — who fought without the party symbol — lost almost as many votes as his trailing-margin to another Manu due to confusion in the mind of the voters. It remains to be seen if Usman is able to maintain her lead as the counting progresses towards more Left-friendly booths.
Meanwhile, the Ernakulam seat, where the Congress typically polls more than 50% of all votes, remains as the only sure-to-win seat, with counting almost halfway through. Similarly, Muslim League, a Congress ally, too remains on track to retain its seat in Mancheshwaram in North Kerala.
HEADACHES FOR THE CONGRESS
The biggest headache for the Congress will be the results from two of its traditional seats — Konni and Vattiyoorkavu.
Vattiyoorkavu, near the capital Trivandrum, was considered a shoo-in for the Congress party because of the strong backing of the Nair Service Society, which had pulled out all stops in its efforts to get the Congress candidate elected from this seat.
NSS’ backing in this seat was considered a big boost for the Congress’ chances as more than 50% of the voters here are from the Nair community.
However, from the indications so far, the positive image of the LDF candidate and a ‘counter-polarization’ among Ezhavas and other non-upper-caste groups may have led to the LDF putting up a stronger-than-expected fight. The CPIM had fielded VK Prashant, the well-regarded mayor of Trivandrum and a member of the Ezhava community, from this seat.
The fight was also notable because the NSS, for the first time in several elections, abandoned its famed ‘equidistance’ principle as far as supporting either of the two fronts are concerned, and said it was throwing its full-weight behind the Congress-led front this time.
The NSS has been peeved with the CPIM government — led by Pinarayi Vijayan (an Ezhava) due to its stand on various subjects, including the Sabarimala temple issue.
NSS mobilized its organizational members to conduct house to house campaigns to create awareness among voters on the importance of ensuring a Congress Party win in this by-election in Vattiyoorkavu.
The second constituency of concern for the Congress is Konni. Here too, caste dynamics may have been a key factor in the election this time.
The seat has traditionally been won by prominent Congress leader Adoor Prakash, who hails from the Ezhava community. In the last election, he polled a whopping 72,800 votes, against just 52,052 for the CPIM candidate Sanal Kumar. The Congress fielded P Mohanraj, a Nair, this time.
LDF candidate Jenish Kumar is leading by about 5,000 votes against Mohanraj, who has polled only 15,373 votes.
The trend could indicate that the Ezhava community — the biggest within the various Hindu groups — may be consolidating behind the Left Democratic Front, especially given that it is currently led by one of their kin.
If true, it is of concern to the Congress Party, as it needs a counter mobilization strategy to come back to power.
The Congress has traditionally relied on a coalition of well-to-do groups — such as the Hindu upper castes, the Syrian Christians and the prosperous segments within the Muslim voters — to counter the Ezhava+Dalit base of the Left parties.
However, the rise of the BJP in the last 10-15 years has eaten into Congress’ Hindu upper caste support base, while Ezhavas have largely resisted the BJP as the CPIM has ‘given’ them two Ezhava chief ministers in 10 years. Before Pinarayi Vijayan, CPIM had made VS Achyuthanandan the chief minister — the first non-upper-caste leader from the Left Front to become the chief minister.
The rising Ezhava presence at the top level of the CPIM has also been a headache for the BJP, which needs an alliance of the Ezhavas and the Nairs for its pro-Hindu agenda and alliance to work in Kerala.