The Kuttanad and Chavara bypolls in Kerala, which stand cancelled following a collective demand of the political parties in the state, could have been a trailer for the assembly elections due next year.
The outcome of the bypolls, if conducted, could have been a bellwether of the political climate in Kerala as the two constituencies could not be counted among the traditional strongholds of either LDF or UDF, the two major fronts in the state.
The main reason cited for demanding the cancellation of the bypolls was the short tenure left for the current assembly. Another reason might be the reluctance of the political fronts to put themselves up for a test. Because a negative result would have a bearing on the next assembly polls.
The ruling CPM-led LDF as well as the opposition Congress-led UDF had exuded confidence of winning both the seats. The UDF went a step further and announced its candidates for both the seats (RSP leader Shibu Baby John in Chavara and Kerala Congress Joseph faction's Jacob Abraham in Kuttanad). LDF had announced candidate only for Kuttanad ( Thomas K Thomas of NCP).
While the UDF was planning to capitalise on the perceived anti-incumbency towards the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government that was caught in a myriad of controversies, the LDF was hoping to tide over the current crisis riding on its progress report in the last four-and-a-half-years.
What the results would have meant
Even while demanding the cancellation of the bypolls, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that every bye-election was a referendum on the performance of the government in office. Perhaps, he was putting up a brave and confident face.
If the Left front retained both the seats, it could have been a big victory for the Pinarayi government as the mandate would help them march towards the 2021 polls with head held high.
Such a result would have simply meant that the people still have faith in the LDF government despite the corruption allegations over the gold smuggling scam and the irregularities in the Life Mission flat construction, to name a few. Such a result would have also kept Left's hopes for a second term.
On the other hand, UDF victories in both the seats would have proved that there was indeed an anti-incumbency wave and the people of the state wanted to see a change. It would mean that their relentless campaign against the government was paying dividends. With such a result, the Congress and allies could have started preparing for 2021 with the hopes of coming back to power.
Had the result been 1-1, the interpretation could be that both fronts have 50-50 chance in the next Assembly election. It would have prompted both the fronts to do some self introspection and revise strategies for the assembly polls.
The LDF had decided to field late NCP MLA Thomas Chandy's brother Thomas K Thomas in Kuttanad while it hasn't finalised the candidate for Chavara.
Thomas Chandy was elected from Kuttanad thrice consecutively (2006, 2011 and 2016). The UDF felt that Chandy had been winning with his personal influence over the electorate which his brother could not repeat. In 2016, Chandy had won by a margin of 4,891 votes against Jacob Abraham.
In Chavara, the UDF was hoping to win comfortably riding on the personal appeal of Shibu Baby John and the political narrative against the LDF.
Of late, Shibu has been an active presence on TV debates as a sensible voice of the UDF.
He also wields influence over a good size of Chavara's population.
Having represented Chavara twice in the assembly, Shibu, however, could not survive the people's wrath against the previous UDF government in 2016. He lost to LDF's Vijayan Pillai by a margin of 6,189. Vijayan Pillai contested as a candidate of CMP(A), but joined CPM later as his party merged with the latter.
Kerala Congress and Kuttanad
Apart from the larger fight between the LDF and the UDF, the Kuttanad bypoll would also have been a test of strength among the two factions of the Kerala Congress (M) – one headed by P J Joseph and the other by Jose K Mani.
Joseph, who is part of the UDF, claims to have a considerable vote base in the region.
Jacob Abraham polled 45,223 in 2016 when he contested as a candidate of the undivided Kerala Congress (M), headed by the late K M Mani.
Hence, any difference in the vote share of Abraham would have been a sign of whom the traditional Kerala Congress supporters consider as their leader.
Jose K Mani is likely to align with the LDF ahead of the assembly polls, though he has not revealed his plans yet.
The result of Kuttanad bypoll would also have had an impact, good or bad, on his bargaining power.
Neither Kuttanad nor Chavara is a constituency where the BJP fancies any chance of winning.
NDA candidate BDJS's Subhash Vasu had polled 33,044 votes in Kuttanad in 2016 elections while BJP's M Sunil could gather only 10,276 in Chavara.
No wonder, the BJP had no doubt about joining the LDF-UDF chorus seeking cancellation of the bypolls.
With all the possibilities becoming mere food for imagination after the election commission cancelled the bypolls, one has no option but to wait for the local body polls to get a measure of the Kerala electorate.