Kerala bypoll analysis | Adoor Prakash and a swing in Orthodox votes sunk the Congress in Konni

Kerala bypoll analysis | Adoor Prakash and a swing in Orthodox votes sunk the Congress in Konni
Janeesh Kumar. Photo: Aravind Venugopal

The first Assembly polls in nearly a quarter-century in Konni without Adoor Prakash as the Congress candidate has thrown up a CPM win. This is no real surprise.

It was usual for certain panchayats in Konni that swears by Adoor Prakash during Assembly polls, Chittar and Seethathode for instance, to vote Left during Lok Sabha and local body polls. During the last Lok Sabha polls, at the peak of the Sabrimala campaign, it was CPM's Veena George who had led in the Seethathode and Chittar segments. These are places very close to Ponnambalamedu and yet Veena George was not affected by the intense anti-government feelings that were in evidence then. These panchayats are Left at heart and have a dominant Ezhava presence.

This time, with Prakash not in the fray, Chittar and Seethathode have given CPM's young candidate Janeesh Kumar his biggest leads. In short, it can be concluded that without Adoor Prakash it is usual for voters in these areas to revert back to their default political preferences.

But what could trouble the Congress conscience is the massive losses its candidate P Mohanraj have suffered in Congress citadels like Pramadom, Vallicode and Thannithode, and also the shocking drain in its votes in other traditional fortresses like Mylapra and Konni town. It was normal for the Congress to score leads of 1500 to 2000 in both Mylapra and Konni. But this time, preliminary figures show, it has been brought down to below 700.

The Congress candidate P Mohanraj's failure in the two panchayats that share a border - Pramadom and Vallicode – can be attributed to the Adoor Prakash factor. These are areas where Robin Peter, the person Prakash wanted as the candidate, has huge influence. Robin is Pramadom grama panchayat president. And he has huge influence in Vallicode, a panchayat that begins just a stone's throw away from Robin's house.

Both Pramadom and Vallicode have never voted Left, even when the LDF had a strong presence in Konni in the pre-Adoor Prakash period. Pathanamthitta District Congress leaders Onmanorama talked to said that the vote drain in these two panchayats would definitely be questioned.

Adoor Prakash and a swing in Orthodox votes sunk the Congress in Konni
Adoor Prakash

For detailed election results, click here

Nonetheless, the depleted leads in Mylapra and Konni town, where the votes of the Orthodox Christian community are crucial, can be explained by the impressive performance of BJP in these areas. This is also proof that large sections of the Orthodox Community, despite the Church's declarations of neutrality, have put their weight behind K Surendran.

With the Sabarimala battery that had powered it during the Lok Sabha polls losing its charge, the BJP had faced the prospect of Nairs in Konni turning their back on the party. The NSS, too, had taken a pro-UDF stand.  The BJP could not depend on the most dominant caste in the constituency, Ezhavas, either because the SNDP had made known its preference for the CPM and its supposed NDA partner Bharathiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) was infuriatingly non-committal.

Still, Surendran managed to secure 39,786, nearly 29 per cent of the votes; the BJP candidate had won just 11 per cent during the 2016 assembly polls. The party's swift move to woo the Orthodox Church, which was disappointed with both the LDF and the UDF for not standing by it in the fight against the Jacobite faction, has to a large extent compensated the loss of Hindu votes.

It is another matter that Surendran could not even come close to his Lok Sabha performance when he secured 46,506 votes in Konni, just 440 votes short of LDF's Veena George. Still, the result has left the BJP hopeful.

The party has always felt that an alliance with Christians, like the innumerable electoral arrangements it had struck with dominant OBC and lower castes in other parts of India, was the only way for the party to achieve a breakthrough in Kerala. The Konni experiment could, therefore, be the beginning of a unique alliance that the BJP is planning to forge across the state.

More than the candidate, it was the caste and the Adoor Prakash factors that worked for the CPM in Konni. Even the LDF had not expected such a massive win for Janeesh.

To begin with, the CPM's Pathanamthitta District Committee was against his candidature. It had chosen M S Rajendran, the only CPM candidate who had managed to give Adoor Prakash a scare in the last quarter-century. But Janeesh, the state DYFI vice president, was imposed from above.

There was also a whisper campaign, allegedly fulled by the Congress, calling Janeesh misogynist and a 'goonda'. But all this was drowned in a realignment of communal alliances and political preferences in a post-Adoor Prakash era.