The outcome of the bypoll in Pala assembly constituency, which fell vacant following the politcal legend KM Mani, with Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate Mani C Kappan's victory cannot be termed entirely unexpcted. Nor can it be called an'upset' as such. It would be closer to truth to say that the controversies and internal strife in United Democratic Front (UDF), more specifically within Kerala Congress party, set the ground in favour of LDF.
Ever since its formation in 1965, Pala was represented by a sole MLA, and that was KM Mani. He was one of the leaders who succeeded in traversing the left and right of parliamentary politics and gifted with a political nimbleness to survive all turmoils to stand tall in the forefront of Kerala politics. In such a constituency with a natural sympathy wave following his death, going by precedents, a candidate of his party should win.
The internal bickering within Kerala Congress was in fact ignited by the string pulling made by Mani's son Jose K. Mani, probably driven by hopes of the customary wave of sympathy, to make one his own followers the candidate thereby trying to grab the constituency and party's leadership. But Jose's protagonist, PJ Joseph already peeved by the denial of Kottayam Lok Sabha seat, was in no mood to budge. With both sides, and the two leaders too, fighting in two camps, the party candidate could not even contest on the party's symbol. That left the party's state leader Tom Jose to enter the fray as an independent. And for its part, the UDF did not do anything effective to amicably resolve the issue. All this was naturally reflected in the campaign and eventually in the 'ballot'. The ruling LDF, at the same time it was highlighting issues like Palarivatton bridge scandal against the UDF, succeeded in capitalizing on the disunity in the Kerala Congress ranks.
The Joseph faction, that merged with Mani's Kerala Congress about nine years ago, had many a time recenty, tried to revive its 'mother group' and withdraw to its earlier avatar. The ruckus regarding the Kottayam constituency in the recent Lok Sabha elections had brought the party to the brink of a split again. But in the special circumstances then, PJ Joseh succumbed to the pressure and persuasion by UDF leadership and the matter ended temporarily. Thus Thomas Chazhikkadan of the party won the seat with a convincing majority too. But KM Mani was not fortunate to see the victory of his confidant Chazhikkadan, as he died before that. The tug-of-war then was about who would be the party chairman. With Jose K Mani staking claim on the basis of lineage and Joseph claiming seniority, the followers of both came to clashes at several places. There was even some jostling about the seat allocation in the assembly hall.
Many of these disputes have been pending in the court, when the election announcement came for Pala constituency. Naturally, when all the said quarrels came to the fore during the run-up to the election, things became a bit easier for the LDF and its candidate Mani C. Kappen. One can recall the situation when KM Mani faced the election in 2016, which was held within one year from Mani's getting embroiled in the bar bribe scam and consequent resignation from the cabinet. In spite of a strong pro-Left current, he won by 4703 votes, vouching for the favourable political situation there. Add to it the fact that, even in the midst of all the faction fight in Kerala Congress, Mani C. Kappen got a majority of only less than 3000 votes. In other words, if the two factions had sunk differences at least tentatively during the election, it could have saved the ignominy. That way, the defeat of Kerala Congress was what it had asked for.
The differences within Kerala Congress have never been on the basis of any principles or ideals. They were purely a battle for power. Neither the public nor the party workers are likely to have any genuine interest in this shadow boxing. And if they switched their priorities in a situaton of intensifying wrangling, that may be deemed as a higher democratic awareness. When some political pundits have opined that the people of Pala displayed such an elevated political discretion, at least for now we have to agree with that. In that sense the Pala bypoll result is a major political lesson.
And on the side of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the stories heard are, as usual of trading votes. The mutual allegations by BJP leaders can only be seen as a misfortune for a party ruling the Centre. That apart, there is little cause for hope that this poll outcome will lead to any significant change in the governance of the state. But it is certain that this victory will boost LDf's morale to make iis electoral platform stronger in the upcoming bypolls in the five constituencies. The result will benefit UDF too in the sense that it will make the changed political situation clearer for them. But as for Kerala Congress, it will not be easy to erase the damage caused to itself. Further, if the faction duel gets further intense as a result of this, that will ultimately plunge the very party of Kerala Congress into disaster. It had already been predicted by many that the departure of Mani would spell the sunset of his party too. The statements by several party leader post the results only lend credence to that observation. A revival of the party is not going to be easy.