Kochi: The October 21 byelection to the Ernakulam assembly constituency would invoke the memories of 1998 among the voters. It is a memory the CPM would love to cherish while the Congress wants to bury in history.
The 1998 bypoll was necessitated after the then MLA and popular Congress leader George Eden was elected to the Lok Sabha. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front snatched the assembly constituency by fielding Sebastian Paul as an independent candidate. Sebastian Paul defeated UDF's Leno Jacob by 3,940 votes. Twenty-one years later, the constituency is witnessing another bypoll after George Eden's son Hibi Eden was elected to the Lok Sabha.
Much akin to the 1998 scene, the Left has fielded an independent – Manu C Roy, a lawyer of the High Court and son of veteran journalist K M Roy. More than these credentials, Manu's community background also helped him get the ticket. Like Sebastian Paul, Manu also belongs to the Latin Catholic community that can decide the winner in Ernakulam.
While the Congress, like elsewhere in the state, has often banked on the community quotient while fielding candidates in Ernakulam, the CPM has in the past dared to think beyond the community calculations and even succeeded in getting non-Latin Catholic candidates elected (Viswanatha Menon in 1967 and M K Sanu in 1987). This time, the Left party is in no mood for such experiment, though it has fielded a new face and a non-politician against Congress' seasoned leader T J Vinod. He is also from the Latin Catholic community.
Latin Catholics account for nearly 45 per cent of the population in Ernakulam, while Christians overall constitute about 55 per cent.
Vinod, the deputy mayor of Kochi corporation, has been a counsellor for long. He is also the president of the District Congress Committee. BJP, which sees no chance of winning, has fielded party mandalam president and young leader C G Rajagopal.
This bypoll is all about a two-way fight between the traditionally strong UDF and LDF which has more than once proved its ability to turn the table.
Being a Metro constituency, the constituency has its own poll issues with infrastructure development topping the list. Both Congress and CPM say that the pathetic condition of the city roads is going to be a major poll issue. The campaigning is going to witness blame-game between the rival parties with the Congress accusing the state government and the CPM blaming the Kochi Corporation, ruled by UDF, for the poor state of the roads.
“Corporation deputy mayor is the UDF's candidate. So he has to answer LDF's charges over poor infrastructure development,” Sebastian Paul said. He said the Palarivattom flyover fiasco will feature prominently in the LDF's campaign though the structure is situated in the neighbouring constituency. Palarivattom flyover, most of which was built during the UDF regime, is facing partial demolition due to faulty construction. Former UDF minister Ebrahim Kunju is facing Vigilance probe for the alleged scam.
Congress veteran K V Thomas, however, made light of the allegations saying that the front has welcomed all sorts of probe and made it clear that the guilty should be punished.
The LDF camp is buoyed after its upset win in the recent Pala bypoll. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan even said that it is a bellwether of the political trend in Kerala.
However, Sebastian Paul believes that it would not be easy to reprise the Pala outcome in Ernakulam. He, however, is of the view that the Left can win Ernakulam if the party machinery works in full swing. “The LDF has made huge inroads in the constituency. Moreover, the front has ruled the Kochi corporation several times,” he said.
He said the left front is taking the bypolls very seriously.
The UDF, which has called the loss in Pala a wake-up call and a warning from the people, cannot afford to lose Ernakulam as it would take all the glory of the stunning win in the Lok sabha polls (19 out of 20 seats) away from the camp. Losing another fortress would make their charges of anti-incumbency look hollow.
The UDF's assessment is that it didn't succeed in making the Pala bypoll a political fight despite the Congress trying hard to overcome the brazen infighting within the contesting Kerala Congress (M). Sources said the UDF will aggressively be highlighting the charges of corruption, especially over KIIFB and the KSEB's transgrid projects, against the government during the poll campaign. In Ernakulam, the UDF doesn't see much of a threat either from LDF or BJP. However, it has learnt from Pala that there's no room for complacency.
The row over the Supreme Court's Sabarimala verdict, which the UDF had used tactically as against the BJP's aggressive campaign during the Lok Sabha polls, is less likely to influence the Ernakulam bypoll.