Chengannur: All eyes of election-crazy Kerala are on Chengannur assembly constituency which will vote in a pivotal bypoll on Monday. What makes the electoral battle something to watch out for is the BJP's all-out attempts to win the seat which will raise its tally in the 140-seat Kerala assembly to two.
The bypoll, necessitated by the demise of CPM's K K Ramachandran Nair, is viewed as an acid test for all the three fronts in Kerala - CPM-led LDF, Congress-led UDF and the BJP-led NDA. However, the heat of the test is felt more on the BJP, thanks to its quantum leap in the 2016 assembly polls in the constituency.
From mere 6,062 votes in 2011, the saffron party, along with its allies including the SNDP Yogam-backed BDJS, scored 42,682 votes in 2016. Though the party came third, it was only 2,215 votes away from the Congress' sitting legislator P C Vishnunath. Chengannur, since then, has been one of the key constituencies on which the BJP pins its hopes. The campaign of the BJP has been on par with the rival fronts and the party leaders have been putting up a face of confidence throughout the electioneering, even on Saturday, hours after party president Kummanam Rajasekharan was forced to stay away from the campaigning after he was picked up for the post of Mizoram governor on Friday night.
"We will not only improve the performance but emerge victorious," said BJP candidate P S Sreedharan Pillai amid a hectic campaign tour across the assembly segment which has a total of 1,99,340 voters. The BJP is seeking vote for a change in the constituency, which the party terms underdeveloped as a result of the rule by the legislators representing the CPM and the Congress over the years. The party's big poll promise is a separate district for Chengannur, something the CPM and the Congress have dubbed as a poll hoax.
The BJP's biggest plus point in Chengannur is Pillai's affable personality. Hailing from Venmani in the constituency, Pillai is projected as a candidate who is acceptable to people cutting across political persuasions. Pillai's character was considered as a major factor in the NDA's performance in 2016 apart from the support of the BDJS and the wind in favour of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. Pillai's friendhsip with a larger spectrum of society may get translated into votes.
However, the BJP has a lot to worry about this time, including the abstention of the BDJS from campaigning front. The BDJS, annoyed over the alleged ill-treatment meted out to it by the BJP in terms of allocation of administrative posts, has taken a complicated stance over the support to the latter. Being the vice president of the NDA, Thushar Vellappally, who is also the BDJS president, has urged the party workers to vote for Pillai, but his father and SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan has asked the Ezhava community members to vote for those who help the organisation. The BJP counters questions as to the stance of the BDJS, claiming that a large section of the BDJS workers have been campaigning for them ever since the candidate was announced. "They have become part of us," a local BJP leader told Onmanorama. It is true that in some parts of the constituency, local leaders of the SNDP Yogam have come out in support of the BJP, but it is yet to be seen if there will be a swing of Ezhava votes towards the saffron camp as in 2016.
The Nairs and Christians with almost identical vote share form over 50 per cent of the total voters. The Ezhava and Scheduled Caste votes come to around 35 per cent.
The BJP's chances of winning or retaining the vote share of 2016 depends on the undercurrents that would decide on the flow of BDJS votes. Pillai also expects to win a considerable number of Nair votes, though the Nair Service Society has maintained its traditional stance of equidistance.
The BJP encountered a crisis in disguise at the last minute as party's state chief Kummanam has been shifted to the post of Mizoram governor. While the obvious message that the move gives is against the leadership of Kummanam, the party has been trying to downplay it saying Kummanam has actually been rewarded with the post.
The BJP has attempted all shots in the crucial match and the party's star campaigners included actor-Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi, union minister Prakash Javadekar and Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb. Biplab's visit was meant to energise the party cadre and it has succeeded in it. However, the Tripura superhero's visit was unlikely to create any impact on the public. The last-minute cancellation of the campaign by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman also affected the party's electioneering as rival parties projected it as a sign of their fear of defeat.
Notwithstanding the rise or fall of vote share of the BJP, this bypoll is going to be a crucial moment for the party in Kerala as its future strategies would depend on the result of the poll. A win, or rise in vote share or even coming close to 40,000-odd votes would keep BJP very much alive in the picture and a force to be reckoned with in the coming polls, otherwise it's going to be really tough for the party at organisational and political spheres.