The lesson from Chengannurtext_fields
The morale lent to the ruling coalition in the state, particularly to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, by their emerging victorious with a record majority in the Chengannur bypolls besides retaining the existing seat, is not at all trivial.
LDF candidate Saji Cheriyan secured a massive lead of 20, 956 votes stunning even the big optimists, and outshining the majority of 7, 983 votes bagged by deceased CPM MLA Ramachandran Nair. In all the 10 panchayats including Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala’s native panchayat and in the only municipality in the constituency, LDF candidate won lead. It was in an unfavourable atmosphere when the highly sensational Kevin murder case landed the police and the Home Department handled by the Chief Minister in the dock and the Opposition has been hitting hard at the government in the name of ruining law and order, that the Chengannur bypoll took place. Given the above fact, the lessons imparted by the spectacular victory of the ruling party should be analysed factually. Although it can be technically claimed that Congress candidate Vijayakumar this time bagged 1, 500 votes more than UDF's vote in the 2016 assembly polls, it must be admitted that the UDF failed to manage even a narrow share of the increased 2 per cent polling. The last-minute support offered by Kerala Congress (M) led by K M Mani did not help either. Likewise, the results indicate that the calculations of the Congress that when the president of Ayyappa Seva Samiti was made the UDF candidate, it would bring in more Hindu votes misfired. Also, analyzing the outcome based on panchayats prove that this decision led to the loss of minority votes.
In the last assembly election, P S Sreedharan Pillai who contested for BJP had managed to secure more than 42, 000 votes. This was seen as a huge surge and had given the party hopes of victory in the next election. That faith might have been what prompted the party to bring Pillai, who is also the former state president, into the fray with its risk. However, when the results came out with the BJP candidate had lost more than 7,000 votes. Although one reason may be its falling out with Vellapally's BDJS due to bickering, what is made clear by the result of Chengannur – where upper castes are a pivotal force - is that when Narendra Modi's rule has entered its last phase, the saffron government has not been able to raise any hopes among the people of Kerala. At the end of election campaigns, whether the confusion and uncertainty created by banishing state President Kummanam Rajasekharan to Raj Bhavan in Mizoram have influenced the pro-BJP votes is yet to be seen. When the Modi-Amit Shah combine has been facing setbacks even at the national level, Chengannur results indicate that Kerala for the time being, is not yet ready to fall a prey to the communal-fascist wave.
Both Ommen Chandy and ex KPCC President VM Sudheeran who assessed the electoral setback as unexpected, have reacted that they would analyse the causes of defeat and take corrective steps. The leader of Muslim League, the second largest party in UDF, PK Kunhalikutty has also commented that Congress should introspect the reasons for the defeat. Such responses had been made following the crushing defeat the front suffered in the 2016 Assembly elections too. But then what happened? Not only was there no objective evaluation or in-depth rethinking, factionalism within the Congress continued unabated and the party machinery came to a standstill. With the transfer of Oommen Chandy to Andhra Pradesh, the organizational machinery is likely to lose steam further. The cause that led to the dismal fall of the party in states like Bengal, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana was the collapse of the party at grassroots level. If the party's march in Kerala is also along the same path, the reincarnation of Rahul or minority support, or even the setbacks suffered by BJP, will not come to the rescue of the organization. The future of the party and of UDF too, depends on how far the Congress is able to regain a strong leadership, an organizational framework above groups, and above all robust commitment to secular democratic ideals.