Battle Royale in Kerala Thrikkakara By-Election

By P. Sreekumaran

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The campaign in the prestigious Thrikkakara Assembly by-election has entered the final round with the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) doing all they can to possible to ensure victory.

The by-election has been necessitated by the death of Congressional MLA PT Thomas. The UDF has put forward Uma Thomas, the widow of PT Thomas, while the LDF has put forward Jo Joseph, as their candidate. The BJP is also in contention with the party’s main leader, AN Radhakrishnan, trying his luck in the Assembly constituency. Thrikkakkara is a traditional stronghold of Congress. And in the 2021 Assembly elections, Congressional candidate PT Thomas won the seat by defeating LDF independent candidate Dr J Jacob by a margin of more than 14,000 votes.

The biggest factor, which would influence the result, is the absence of a candidate from Twentyt20, a political team backed by corporations, which has considerable influence in the constituency. In the last assembly election, the Twenty20 candidate, Dr. Terry Thomas, had obtained 13,897 votes out of 1,36,570 total votes obtained. The BJP candidate received 15,483 votes. Twenty20, which has now formed an alliance called the People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA) with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is not fielding any candidates this time. The moot question is: which front would benefit from the absence of the PWA candidate?

Opinion is sharply divided on the issue. The UDF says the Front’s candidate would be the beneficiary as the Twenty20 vehemently opposes the ruling LDF government. In support of their argument, the UDF and Congress leaders state that Twenty20 chief Sabu Jacob has been an outspoken critic of the LDF government and its K-Rail project in recent remarks made at a public meeting at Kizhakkambalam panchayat, which is under the control of Twenty20. The Twenty20 is also angry with the Government. In protest against government policies, he canceled a plan to invest in the state and went to the state of Telangana to start industrial units in that state.

The LDF, however, hopes to take a slice of the Twenty20 vote. For its part, the CPI(M), aware of the damage Twenty20 votes can cause, has launched a damage control exercise to bury the hatchet with Twenty20. As part of the effort, the CPI(M) district leadership has called on Kunnathunadu Assembly Constituency MLA Party, PV Sreenijan and a bitter critic of Twenty20 boss Sabu Jacob to remove a social media post criticizing much to the latter. Another factor that could go against the LDF candidate is the murder of a Twenty20 worker, presumably by CPI(M) workers. But then there is another school of thought which says that the Twenty20 will hardly have an impact as their core voters are no more than 2000.

The BJP hopes to do well in the by-elections by backing former PC George of the MLA, who was arrested for making an allegedly inflammatory speech against the Muslim community at a religious gathering. BJP believes that George will be able to secure a large portion of the Christian vote in the constituency for the party’s candidate. However, George’s claims of being a deciding factor in the constituency should be taken with a grain of salt. Observers believe that PC’s influence in the area is very limited and is not in a position to decisively influence the outcome. Public perception is also against George, who has been making very provocative speeches. There is recognition for the government’s decision to arrest him for his outbursts against Muslims. The arrest would secure the LDF candidate the strong support of 27,000 Muslim voters in Thrikkakara, front leaders hope.

Be that as it may, the result of the by-elections will have no impact on the strength and cohesion of the ruling LDF. The LDF would make history if its candidate wins. The Front, which has a strength of 99 in the assembly, will score a century should its candidate take home the winner. However, the Front has launched a well-orchestrated campaign to wrest the electorate away from the UDF. The LDF leaders have immersed themselves, body and soul, in the campaign with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself spearheading the campaign. The main theme of the LDF campaign is the development activities, including the prestigious SilverLine semi-high-speed rail project, which the Government has initiated during its mandate. LDF leaders say the front’s recent victory in local body polls across the state shows which way the wind is blowing. The LDF had won 23 of the 42 districts where elections were held. Congress was able to win only 11 seats.

The UDF campaign has also been launched with all the main leaders of the front camping in the constituency. The UDF obviously hopes to come out on top on the late PT Thomas’s track record and sympathy factor. For a change, congressional leaders are also campaigning with a show of unity, a rare occurrence. Congressional leaders are also confident that the SilverLine project would heavily influence the outcome. The SilverLine project is a disaster for a state like Kerala, which is environmentally and economically vulnerable. tThat has been the recurring theme of the UDF campaign.

At the end of the day, it is safe to say that the stakes are higher for the UDF. If he loses at Thrikkakara, the Congress and the UDF he heads will be further weakened. Therefore, it is a situation in which the UDF must win. There is also a growing perception of a tacit understanding between Congress and the BJP to ensure the defeat of the LDF candidate. (IPA Service)

Battle Royale post at Thrikkakara By-Election in Kerala first appeared on IPA Newspack.

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