This time the Left Democratic Front (LDF) had essentially banked on two factors to loosen the chokehold of the Congress on Konni.
One, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's promise to convert Cheruvally estate near Erumely into an airport to serve Sabarimala devotees. Two, a sulking Adoor Prakash.
The first, a gamble of political sweet talk. And the other, a risk-free boon that fell on the LDF's lap.
The airport guarantee was a calculated ploy to reassure those suspicious of the CPM's intentions on the Sabarimala issue.
A while ago, the anger was intense. Konni had seen an astounding surge in the votes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the Lok Sabha polls just few months ago; from just 11.66 per cent in 2011 it shot up to 32.17 per cent in 2019.
So this attempt to douse the Sabarimala fire was a good try by the CPM. But it has not worked. The CPM cadre in Konni is cold to the idea.
Trouble with the airport
“The Congress was already canvassing to get the airport to come up in Kumbazha estate, which is within Konni. Cheruvally Estate is in Kottayam. We will look like fools if we keep talking about the Cheruvally airport,” said a CPM branch committee member in Enadimangalam panchayat, an LDF stronghold.
“The district leadership has also told us to be careful while touching upon the airport issue. We make it a point not to speak about it during 'kudumbayogams',” the CPM worker said.
Similar sentiment was expressed by a CPM branch committee member in Mylapra panchayat, a UDF citadel. “It is alright for the chief minister to make the announcement but it would not be sensible for us to make this a campaign issue. Since the proposed airport is not in Konni, we will fumble for answers if voters ask why we couldn't use this bypoll as an opportunity to bring the airport to our constituency,” he said.
Counting on a 'traitor'
Now that airport gamble has not paid off, the CPM has no choice but to wait for Adoor Prakash to turn things around for them.
The CPM hopes that Adoor Prakash will never be able to get over the snub his party had dealt him. Adoor wanted his confidant Robin Peter to replace him as the Congress candidate in Konni but the party picked P Mohanraj, a senior leader from the opposing 'A' Group in the Congress.
“If Mohanraj wins, Adoor can very well forget Konni. It is also well known that Adoor Prakash deeply regrets his decision to relinquish the MLA seat and is itching to get back to state politics. A victorious Mohanraj can permanently block his return. Adoor Prakash is too ambitious and cunning to let that happen,” said Thomas Chacko, a former DYFI leader and CPM district committee member.
Adoor Prakash going rogue can also release some of CPM's traditional Ezhava votes now locked up in the Congress kitty.
The forested Seethathode and Chittar panchayats along the eastern fringes of Konni, for instance, have always been ruled by the LDF. Even in Parliament elections, it is the Left candidate who invariably leads in these areas.
But during Assembly polls, as though under the spell of some illusion, even staunch Left supporters refuse to look beyond Adoor Prakash.
“The absence of Adoor Prakash is a big advantage,” said CPM leader M S Rajendran, the only candidate who had lost to Adoor Prakash for less than 10,000 votes after he became a mighty political force in Konni.
“He had effectively used money and power to secure personal votes in Konni,” Rajendran said.
Booth-level CPM leaders Onmanorama talked to said Adoor Prakash had secretly won over even some CPM booth committees with money.
CPM's wishful thinking
The Congress leaders, however, laugh away the CPM's understanding of the situation. “What they don't, or perhaps don't want to, realise is that the internal issues in the party have been neatly sorted out,” a top Congress leader said.
“It is true that Adoor Prakash had a problem with the candidate selection. But the party has convinced him and, acknowledging his immense stature in the constituency, worked out a compromise that should be highly satisfactory for him,” the leader said.
Onmanorama had earlier reported that he would soon be appointed KPCC working president, a move that will ease his way to the post of KPCC president.
Adoor Prakash has also been warned. Senior leaders have told him that his future prospects would suffer if the party finds any evidence of sabotage.
“You can now see Adoor Prakash in Konni everyday, busy campaigning. He is present at all the election meetings of the party. Robin Peter is also active,” the Congress leader said.
The Congress also needs Adoor Prakash to attract Ezhavas, the largest community in Konni. Nairs are almost equal in number but holding on to their votes is less a of a worry for the Congress. Nair areas like Vallicode, Pramadom and Konni have always stood by the UDF. Moreover, Nair Service Society has this time publicly kept both the CPM and the BJP in the enemy camp.
It is the attitude of Ezhava-dominated areas like Chittar and Seethathode, which had preferred Adoor Prakash for the Assembly polls, that is bothering the Congress more. The SNDP units in the constituency have thrown their weight behind the LDF candidate, Janeesh Kumar.
With the Bharathiya Dharama Jana Sena (BDJS) saying it has nothing to do with the NDA, there seems to be a pro-CPM consolidation within the Ezhava community.
The Congress had initially expected that Ezhava votes would be split between the CPM and the BJP, giving it some negative gains.
Hitting below the belt
Hopes dashed, the Congress has thrown fair play to the winds. It is using two old cases against Janeesh Kumar, who is also the state DYFI vice president, to label him a molester and a “goonda”.
Once Janeesh had allegedly slapped a woman during a property dispute and at another time he is said to have had assaulted a policeman for arresting a bootlegger.
The CPM has also let loose a negative campaign. In its case, to prevent the drift of Ezhava votes to K Surendran, the BJP candidate. Dependable sources say that the party is using SNDP units to spread the word that Surendran is not Ezhava but of the 'Mannan' caste.
Sabarimala women's entry, too, seems to have lost its emotional steam. “It was not just the Sabarimala issue that had helped Surendran perform well in the Lok Sabha polls. He had shamelessly exploited the fact that he was up against two Christians (Anto Antony and Veena George). He can hatch no such communal schemes this time,” former DYFI leader Thomas Chacko said.
BJP's Christian dreams
The BJP is trying to make up the possible loss of Nair and Ezhava votes with help from the Orthodox community. There are roughly 30,000 Orthodox Christian votes in the constituency.
This talk of the Orthodox Church leaning towards the BJP turned serious when the Kunnamkulam diocese honoured BJP state president Sreedharan Pillai during a holy event of the Church.
Some Orthodox members had even held a press conference in Konni pledging support to the BJP candidate saying both the LDF and the UDF had betrayed the community in their ongoing dispute with the Jacobite Church. The Orthodox Church's official spokesperson, Fr Johns Abraham, was quick to distance the Church from the move.
However, Congress leaders are confident that Christian votes will not go astray. They feel that areas where Chrisitian votes are decisive - Mylapra, Kaipattoor, Chandanapally, Vakayar, Koodal and Konni town - have always stood with the UDF and would continue to do so.
“Old habits die hard,” a Congress leader said.