A Muslim League meeting held in Kozhikode on Wednesday was keenly watched by the Congress, which was obviously worried about the allied leaders’ demand for another Lok Sabha seat to contest from Kerala. The meeting’s timing was also important, a day ahead of a meeting of the United Democratic Front.
However, the Muslim League meeting did not provide reasons for Congress to worry. There was no formal demand for another Lok Sabha seat for the party to contest.
Yet the Muslim League may not have backtracked from its ambitious track. The party is eyeing Vadakara, Wayanad or Kasaragod seats. The strength in the state legislative assembly is often used as an indicator of the popular bases of the parties. If the Congress, which has only 22 MLAs to boast of in the assembly, can contest in 15 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the Muslim League could stake claim for more than its current share of two seats. After all, it has 18 members in the assembly.
Muslim League leaders often cite an example in the rival camp, where the CPI is allowed by larger ally CPM to contest in four parliamentary seats because it has 19 seats in the state assembly.
Both the ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front are faced with the challenge of accommodating all conflicting claims from aspiring candidates. Even the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has this problem.
The LDF and the UDF meetings on Thursday did not get into seat divisions but the constituent parties have already started the groundwork for hard bargains. The Muslim League could be a hard nut to crack in the UDF though the party does not want to ruffle feathers in the Congress. The party’s trust in the Congress has got a lift after Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Dubai. The Muslim League had worked to make the Congress president’s visit to Dubai a success.
After all the Muslim population in north Kerala, a major constituency of the Muslim League, views Rahul Gandhi as a saviour.
The Congress is expected to take back the Palakkad seat, which it had set aside for Janata Dal leader M P Veerendra Kumar, who has since switched sides to the LDF. Yet it can claim status quo since it allowed N K Premachandran to contest from Kollam in 2014. Kottayam is promised to another ally, the Kerala Congress.
Yet a section of the Congress leaders want former chief minister Oommen Chandy to contest in the party banner from Kottayam. The Kerala Congress, however, has big plans for Kottayam.
The LDF, on the other hand, has a problem of plenty. The expanded front has nine constituents vying for posts. The Janadhipathya Kerala Congress is likely to stake claim for Pathanamthitta for former MP Francis George. NCP state president Thomas Chandy is also eyeing the constituency. K B Ganesh Kumar is also being considered for the sensitive constituency.
Veerendra Kumar’s Janata Dal may not be contended with the Rajya Sabha seat offered to the leader. The party is likely to claim the Vadakara constituency. The INL is eyeing the Kasaragod constituency.
The CPM, however, is in no mood for a bargain. It could part with a seat only if an outsider offers a greater chance of winning it. Janata Dal (S), which was the only party in the LDF to contest the general election in 2014, no longer wants Kottayam. The state committee meeting of the party agreed to stake claim for Thiruvananthapuram for A Neelalohitha Dasan Nadar.
If the CPI refuses to part with Thiruvananthapuram, the Janata Dal may ask for Pathanamthitta or Ernakulam. The party can throw its weight around as the ruling party in neighbouring Karnataka though many within the CPM is not open to the idea of letting the newcomer walk away with a seat.
The LDF may also want to acknowledge the support of community organisations which stood by the government in the Sabarimala-related standoff.
The BJP faces a curious situation in Kerala. Though the party never entertained any hopes of winning a Lok Sabha seat in Kerala, it had no dearth of seats to contest. Now the picture has changed with allies piling pressure for more seats. The Bharat Dharma Jana Sena has already asked for eight seats to contest. This is the first general election after the formation of the SNDP-backed party.
The BJP contested 18 seats in 2014 but it might have to concede more seats to its allies. The Kerala Congress (Nationalist) and the RSP (Bolshevik) were the only other parties to contest the general election under the banner of the NDA in Kerala last lime.
The BDJS contested 36 seats in the assembly election and expects a proportional share in the Lok Sabha seats. Yet the BJP might go for a hard bargain given the BDJS leaders’ inability to secure the total support of the SNDP in matters of importance.
The BJP is frustrated at SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellappalli Natesan’s continued support of the LDF government. He remains to act as the chairman of a government-sponsored Navothana Samithi. That is not an ideal situation for the BJP which promoted the BDJS to ride on the SNDP base.
The only other constituent to get a chance to contest under the NDA banner may be P C Thomas. The other members may have to wait.