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In Kerala, Congress, CPI(M) and BJP keen to cash in on Rahul's disqualification

Will the controversy be a blessing in disguise for Congress?

[File] Congress leader Rahul Gandhi interacts with the people affected by floods and landslides at Bhoothanam in his parliamentary constituency Wayanad | PTI [File] Congress leader Rahul Gandhi interacts with the people affected by floods and landslides at Bhoothanam in his parliamentary constituency Wayanad | PTI

Wayanad, listed among the 115 most backward districts in the country by NITI Aayog in 2017, was a game changer in Kerala in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Wayanad constituency attracted national attention as one of the two seats from which Congress leader Rahul Gandhi contested the polls. Gandhi not only won the seat with a margin of 4.31 lakh votes, but also created an electoral wave in Kerala that helped the Congress-led United Democratic Front sweep 19 of 20 seats. 

With just one year to go for the next Lok Sabha elections, Wayanad once again becomes a talking point with Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha. Political analysts see that Gandhi and Wayanad could become a blessing in disguise for the Congress in Kerala. 

Said political observer A. Jayashankar: “Congress has an opportunity to capitalise on the current sentiments. This is the year in which people make that decision [for whom to give their votes for the general elections in 2024]. But the Congress has to start working unitedly from now on for it.” 

Jayashankar added that Congress certainly can try to capitalise on talking about the issue of Gandhi’s disqualification from everywhere it has a base. “But I am doubtful of the organisational structure, money and media support for Rahul Gandhi to capitalise on this issue,” he said.

In Kerala, the Congress, the CPI(M) and even the BJP are cautious in framing their responses as they all want to cash in on the current circumstances related to Gandhi’s disqualification in Wayanad. The CPI(M) is in a tricky position.

The state unit of the CPI(M) is walking a thin line between its efforts to be the champion of the anti-BJP fight and in maintaining its position as the only major opponent of the Congress. CPI(M) leadership, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, wrote strong social media posts condemning the disqualification of Gandhi. The cyber volunteers of the CPI(M) also tried to create the perception that the Communists reacted more strongly than the state Congress leaders in the matter. CPI(M) state secretary M.V. Govindan even told TV channels that the party will protest “purath” (which translates to outside), too. Many media outlets interpreted this as CPI(M)’s plan to hit the streets for Gandhi. However, Govindan told THE WEEK that the party had no such plans to conduct any street protests over this issue. He also course-corrected the party’s stance by saying that their stand is not in support of Gandhi, but is against the actions taken by the Union government. Govindan also said that his party will continue to fight Congress in Kerala.

In the initial days after Gandhi's disqualification, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President K. Sudhakaran had expressed his hope that if a byelection is announced in Wayanad, the CPI(M) will offer its support to the Congress. However, Govindan rejected the scenario of any such support. “If a byelection comes, there is no doubt that we [the Left Democratic Front] will contest,” he said. “There is no coalition with Congress here. We are taking every state as a unit and are employing seat adjustments to ensure that anti-BJP votes do not go split. The LDF will contest. There is no doubt about that.”

Govindan also staunchly criticised the Congress's stance, saying that the grand old party cries foul only when their leaders are being “targeted” by the BJP with the help of central agencies or court verdicts. 

“But the CPI(M) has resisted undemocratic moves against everyone,” he said. “For instance, when Lakshadweep MP was disqualified, and subsequently elections were announced—the verdict came from the lower court only; the whole process and option for appeal is all left. The election commission announced the elections in haste. Though the election commission is a Constitutional institution, it was acting on behalf of the Sangh Parivar agenda. We raised that allegation. I myself had given a statement on it. Another example is what happened in the case of Manish Sisodia. He was arrested. TRC MLC Kavita has been questioned. So, political leaders from different parts of India are being targeted with numerous cases; they are being targeted in different ways. We have raised voices against all these cases.”

Incidentally, Gandhi’s disqualification happened at a time when the Wayanad unit of the CPI(M) was planning for a protest march to highlight Gandhi’s “failures as an MP” in addressing certain burning issues in Wayanad. “Wayanad faces major issues like increased human-animal conflicts, and night travel ban [from 9 pm to 6 am on NH-766, a road which passes through Bandipur Tiger Reserve and connects Wayanad to Karnataka],” says A. Rafeeq, DYFI district secretary. “Lifting this ban was a promise from the UDF during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It has not happened yet. We wanted to address the failures of the MP in the issues of Wayanad, and also the apathy of the Union government against the youth of this country. This was a march that was declared many months before. We planned to conduct it on April 25. But now the MP is disqualified, so we have to consider that situation also while planning on further action.”

Rahul Mamkoottathil, Youth Congress state general secretary, told THE WEEK that the CPI(M) making loud noises on social media on Rahul Gandhi's disqualification was only to portray that they are also part of protests. 

“Can you show me a single picture of any major leader of CPI(M) protesting [on the ground]? There is nothing like that,” he said. “Rahul Gandhi is a common asset of everyone who believes in the democratic value of this country. When a deplorable move happens against such a person, the CPI(M) attempted to show off that they are also part of protests. However, when they realised that such protests are against their interests and that the protests are giving more strength to the Congress, they took a U-turn,” he says. 

Mamkoottathil also drew a dichotomy between the central and state leaderships of the CPI(M). “We have trust in the CPI(M) of Sitaram Yechury,” he says. “However, the problem is that Yechury is so helpless. Just like how Gautam Adani is for Narendra Modi, Pinarayi Vijayan is for Yechury. He [Vijayan] is the party’s major funding source, and Yechury cannot disappoint Vijayan, even if he wishes to. The secular credentials and stances Yechury’s party have been diluted because of the interference of Pinarayi Vijayan’s party.”

The young leader cited the absence of CPI(M) in the Bharat Jodo Yatra to substantiate his point. “The central leadership of the CPI(M) wanted to participate in Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kashmir. However, it was blocked,” said Mamkoottathil. “Ok, let’s say it is a Congress programme and Communists do not want to participate. But what happened was that the motherly organisation of all Communist parties in this country—the CPI—participated in it. Also, if someone says that the CPI(M) won’t participate in other parties’ programmes… they had participated in the rallies of K. Chandrashekar Rao of the TRS. They can hold hands with Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. These are parties that did not take a proper stance even in the case of this attack on Rahul Gandhi. So, we do not have any trust in Kerala CPI(M) in this anti-Modi protests.”

Jayashankar observes that the initial enthusiasm shown by the state unit of the CPI(M) contributed to the narrative that in Kerala also it is becoming a fight between BJP and anti-BJP forces. “But who is going to benefit from such a narrative? The benefit will certainly go to Congress,” he adds. 

Meanwhile, the BJP is also happy about such a narrative is cropping up in the state as the saffron party still struggling to be considered a major contender in the unique electoral politics of Kerala. “When Rahul Gandhi faced disqualification, the CPI(M) created a more aggressive furore here than the Congress…. Last time, it may have been a fight between the LDF and the UDF. But now they have come together. Just like in West Bengal and Tripura. So, from now on, it will be wrong to assess that the fight is between the LDF and the UDF,” Surendran told THE WEEK last week. 

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