The impressive victory of K.S. Sabarinadhan in the Aruvikkara assembly byelection has given a breather to the Congress-led United Democratic Front government in Kerala, which was battling a series of controversies and allegations of corruption. A major part of the credit for the big win goes to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who has emerged as the undisputed leader of the party in the state for the time being.
The bypoll was necessitated by the death of G. Karthikeyan, former speaker of the state assembly, who has represented the constituency five consecutive times. When the bypoll was announced, the Congress leadership wanted M.T. Sulekha, Karthikeyan's wife, to contest. But when she resisted, the mantle fell on her son Sabarinadhan. A management professional working with the Tatas, Sabarinadhan was a political novice, but the political capital left behind by his father was more than enough to overcome this handicap.
The Left Democratic Front, led by the CPI(M), was hopeful of a victory, thanks to the numerous scams and corruption charges involving UDF ministers and the chief minister's office. The media had been digging out new scams on a daily basis. The courts had also put the government in the dock by passing strictures against it. The CPI(M) fielded veteran leader M. Vijayakumar, a former minister and speaker. As the BJP put up O. Rajagopal, former MP and Union minister, it became a tough contest.
The entire CPI(M) machinery started working like a well-oiled engine, well before the UDF and the BJP candidates set foot on the campaign trail. Polit Bureau member Pinarayi Vijayan personally supervised the field work by the cadre, even as his bête noire V.S. Achuthanandan led the campaign from the front. With a massive turnout at the rallies addressed by Achuthanandan, the LDF's hope of retaking the constituency soared to new heights.
While the LDF was holding impressive rallies, the UDF was keeping a low profile on the campaign front. Chandy and his ministerial team silently worked overtime, attending hundreds of family gatherings. Congress working committee member A.K. Antony and state unit president V.M. Sudheeran also pitched in.
The BJP's star campaigner was actor politician Suresh Gopi. The party also relied on Rajagopal's clean image. Both the fronts hoped that the BJP will make a dent in the other's vote bank.
But when the results were out, the LDF was in for a rude shock as it lost by a massive margin of 10,128 votes. It was the BJP that threw up a surprise by amassing 34,145 votes; the party polled 26,451 votes more than the last assembly elections. This has surprised political pundits who had given the BJP 25,000 votes at the maximum.
The consolidation of minority votes—Christian Nadar (24 per cent) and Muslim (14 per cent)—helped the UDF win. The fear of a BJP victory accelerated this trend. Sabarinadhan's youthfulness and the political legacy of his father had made things easy for him.
The Ezhava community, traditionally considered Left supporters, seems to have been weaned away by the BJP, which further drained the LDF vote bank. Aruvikkara being a rural constituency, the electoral issues that the Left took up didn't go down well with the masses. They were least bothered about the wild allegations and voted for the development and concern slogan coined by the chief minister.
The LDF will have to do a lot of soul searching as this is the third byelection it has lost in a row. With local body elections and assembly elections just months away, the LDF, especially the CPI(M), will have to rework its strategy and fine-tune it. The CPI(M) cannot afford to lose Kerala as it is the only large state where it has considerable influence, having lost its stronghold in West Bengal.
For the BJP, the results are a booster dose to their dream of opening an account in the state assembly. Having staged a creditable performance, the party has made detailed plans to realise this dream. The blame game has already begun in the UDF and the LDF camps for having given the BJP a foothold in the state's polity.