Thiruvananthapuram: The announcement by the Election Commission of India that by-elections for two vacant Assembly seats in Kerala will be held in November 2020 along with the Bihar polls seems to have caught the three political fronts in the southern state off-guard.
The Kerala Assembly elections are likely to be held in April-May next year.
Even as the date for the bypolls is yet to be announced, Kerala Chief Electoral Officer Tikka Ram Meena said that he had brought to the attention of higher authorities various issues regarding the by-elections as there is "very little time left in the present Assembly's term".
"But the ECI decision is final. We are fully geared up for smooth conduct of the bypolls, whenever these are held under strict Covid-19 protocols," said Meena.
In the 140-seat Kerala Assembly, the two seats of Kuttanad and Chavara fell vacant after former Minister and NCP leader Thomas Chandy (Kuttanad) and CPI-M legislator Vijayan Pillai (Chavara) passed away.
With civic elections also most likely to be held in October, it will be viewed as a rehearsal for the by-elections as well as the Assembly elections in 2021.
These upcoming polls will be more of an acid test for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan than the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front, as his government is embroiled in controversies like the gold smuggling case.
Former Minister and RSP leader Shibhu Baby John, who has represented Chavara twice and lost twice, will in all likelihood contest as a UDF nominee. The CPI-M is however toying with the idea of fielding Pillai's son, hoping to encash the sympathy factor, said sources.
But when it comes to Kuttanad, it is going to be a headache for the opposition UDF, as this seat has over the years been contested by the Kerala Congress (Mani). After the death of party founder K M Mani last year, the party is now split down the middle between his son Jose K Mani and veteran legislator P J Joseph.
Jose Mani's faction last week won a moral victory when the Election Commission ruled that the official name 'Kerala Congress (Mani)' and its traditional poll symbol 'Two Leaves' will be vested in his group, leaving Joseph miffed.
So, when it comes to selecting which of the two factions will get the seat, it could cause a lot of heartburn which could affect the poll verdict.
Joseph has already staked his claim to the seat and pointed out that there was an "informal understanding in the UDF" on it.
However, Jose Mani is not going to sit quietly and if the stand-off between the two factions intensifies, the Congress may step in and field its own candidate.
Communist Party of India-Marxist State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asserted that whenever the bypolls are held, the Left Democratic Front will win both the seats.
"The general norm in the LDF is that seats contested by our allies are given to them. At Chavara, the late Pillai's party merged with the CPI-M. Our party will now take a call on the issue," said Balakrishnan.
Even though the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has just one seat in the Assembly, it is trying to improve its overall presence in the southern state. In Kuttanad, BJP ally BDJS's top leader Subhas Vasu contested and secured over 31,000 votes in the 2016 Assembly polls.
But of late, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) has vertically split and Vasu has been ousted. Hence, one will have to wait and see which party from the NDA contests the seat.
Meanwhile, Chandy's brother Thomas K Thomas has thrown his hat into the ring and claimed that the family of Chandy also wishes that he contests the seat.