Chengannur: With only hours left to begin polling for the byelection in Chengannur Assembly constituency, politicians and pollsters are busy calculating those aspects that could turn decisive in the do-or-die battle for all the three major fronts.
The factors, which decide the winner in the traditional UDF bastion which sided with the Left front in 2016 even as offering strong support to the BJP, include caste and community equations, development needs and the personality of the candidates.
The CPM-led LDF has fielded Saji Cherian while D Vijayakumar is the Congress-led UDF's candidate. BJP-led NDA has fielded senior leader P S Sreedharan Pillai who had come to a competing third position in 2016.
Personality over politics
All the three fronts claim that they have picked the best candidate available and boast of their ability to appeal to various sections of society beyond party boundaries.
CPM has picked its district secretary Cherian to retain the seat which was left vacant by the demise of K K Ramachandran Nair. The party projects Cherian as someone who is capable of taking off the development projects launched by Nair during his brief tenure of a year-and-a-half. In posters and speeches, Cherian is presented as a face of humanity and charity for his active involvement in the Karuna Palliative Care Society. His activities for promoting organic farming are also highlighted in a bid to appeal to the educated middle class.
However, rival parties have harshly challenged these claims and call Cherian a capitalist communist. They accuse him of colluding with land and sand mafia and loan sharks. The CPM hopes to overcome all these allegations with its strong election machinery that has been trying hard to reach each and every voter. This is an election in which the CPM knows very well about the importance of the candidate's personality because it was Nair's personal appeal among various sections of society that won him the seat in 2016 beyond the party's support.
The Congress claims to have found the best possible candidate in Vijayakumar, a lawyer who is highly familiar with the people of the constituency. He is projected as a humble and simple politician, the antithesis of the alleged arrogant demeanour of the Left candidate. Congress insiders admit that the dip in the personal appeal of their two-term MLA P C Vishnunath was a major reason behind the Congress' defeat in the constituency in 2016. Vijayakumar, who is an active member of the Akhil Bharat Ayyappa Seva Sangham, a body of the devotees of the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa Temple, is the Congress' trump card to regain the traditional Congress votes that allegedly went to the BJP's pockets last time.
However, both the CPM and the BJP contest the Congress' claims of Vijayakumar as a clean and disciplined party man. They have been digging up media reports of Vijayakumar rebelling against party orders by violating party whip in a cooperative bank election and by resigning as DCC general secretary in protest against the candidature of Sobhana George in 1991. George, who is with the Left this time, is at the forefront in attacking Vijayakumar. "This could be the first time he will be voting for the Congress," she quipped.
When it comes to personality, BJP's Pillai commands respect among awide section of society. He is not counted among the typical foot-in-the-mouth leaders BJP is synonymous with. His professional credentials as a veteran lawyer and writer are also his plus points. However, in a tough political battle, people may not always vote for personality alone.
The Nairs and Christians with almost identical vote share form over 50 per cent of the total voters. The Ezhava and Scheduled Caste votescome to around 35 per cent. While the LDF and the UDF claim to have an equal share of votes from each community, it is believed that a large portion of Ezhava votes had gone to the BJP under the aegis of ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS). However, this time the BDJS has taken a complicated stance. Though party leader Thushar Vellappally has declared support for the NDA, the BDJS was not at the forefront of campaigning and conventions - a cause of worry in the BJP camp.
Christians constitute 26 per cent of votes in the constituency and majority of them belong to the Orthodox church, which is traditionally a vote bank of the Congress. However, this time not only the CPM but also the BJP claims to have their support. Though the church has not offered support to any particular front, its stance is going to be crucial. Marthoma, CSI and Pentecost orders also have considerable vote share in the constituency. The stance of each sect will have a say in the final verdict.
A hot topic of political discourse in Chengannur throughout the campaigning was the stance of K M Mani-led Kerala Congress. The CPM and especially Cherian kept on saying that KC(M) has a considerable amount of votes in Chengannur and the party would get it this time. However, the
CPM suffered a setback when Mani, at the last minute, decided to back its old front Congress. There is no clear picture of KC(M)'s influence in the constituency and parties give contradicting numbers. A source in the Congress said the regional party has only some 1,000 votes in Chengannur, while the CPM counts it up to 2,500. The KC(M)'s claim of 5,000 votes seems to be exaggerated though.
The CPM still claims that the KC(M) workers in Chengannur are with them, though without any confidence.
Chengannur is one of the few constituencies in Kerala where a woman leader can at least claim to have an influence of her own. George, a three-time Congress MLA, severed ties with the party during the 2016 assembly polls and contested as an independent. She gathered 3,000-odd votes but claims to have won her aim - to defeat the Congress candidate. George is with the LDF this time, campaigning for Cherian. The CPM hopes that it would be helpful even if she can bring at least 1,000 votes on her own.
This is a strange yet crucial factor. The votes to be scored by the BJP will decide the actual winner. If they could keep the 42,682 votes intact, it's a reason for the Congress to worry. Because whenever the BJP has made inroads, the Congress was at the receiving end. In 2016, the CPM could raise its votes by at least 200-odd votes when the Congress lost thousands from its kitty. The politically ambitious CPM actually wants the scene to repeat in Chengannur so that it can emerge victorious. The CPM hopes that if the BJP gnaws into Congress votes, it would cause a consolidation of minority votes in their favour.
Young and fresh blood
Youngsters have been very much visible in the two-month-old campaigning in Chengannur, but they are the partisans who would vote for the party they support in any case. On the other hand, the stance of those who are not so open about their political affiliations is going to be decisive on Monday. There are 5,039 first-time voters in the constituency and 73,335 are under 40.
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