Analysis | Mayor's aura may prove dye is not caste in Vattiyoorkavu bypoll

VK Prasanth
Vattiyoorkavu CPM candidate V K Prasanth.

The by-elections are on in five constituencies but it was the Vattiyoorkavu CPM candidate V K Prasanth alone that KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran seemed desperate to cut to size.

“The LDF candidate in Vattiyoorkavu is an inflated balloon. Tell me what the mayor has done for Thiruvananthapuram Corporation,” Mullapally was contemptuous while inaugurating the campaign of UDF candidate K Mohan Kumar on October 6.

This was uncharacteristic, too, because Mullappally is not known to make personal attacks. The KPCC chief can be fiercely combative like when he called the CPM's Manjeswaram candidate Shankar Rai a “Sanghi in Communist garb”. But that was calculated belligerence, intended to feed the political narrative the Congress wants to popularise of a secret understanding between the CPM and the BJP.


Wrath boomerangs

Mullappally's outburst against Prasanth sounded more like the unchecked detonation of an outsmarted man than a deliberate ploy. The rhetoric, no wonder, has backfired.

“It has only served to earn Prasanth some sympathy. Mullappally perhaps sensed what Prasanth could do to our chances in Vattiyoorkavu and was impatient to have a go at him. But you cannot blindly accuse someone who is widely regarded as a performer of having done nothing,” a top Congress leader in Thiruvananthapuram said.

There is a feeling, among voters and even in Congress circles, that Prasanth has emerged as an icon of both youth and development in the constituency. “The younger generation doesn't think along caste, class or party lines. They had seen the leadership role played by Prasanth during flood relief and will vouch for him. They can even convince their parents to vote for the mayor,” said advocate Paraniyam Devakumar, the patron of Federation of Residents' Association Thiruvananthapuram (FRAT).

Hound the CM, spare the mayor

V K Prasanth
Vattiyoorkavu CPM candidate V K Prasanth during election campaign.

The Congress seems to have realised the folly of taking on Prasanth, and has reworked their campaign pitch. Prasanth is no more its target. Pinarayi Vijayan is. “It will be hard to sully Prasanth's image but, thanks to its poor record in the last three-and-a-half years, we can easily create a scare about the Pinarayi government,” the Congress source said.

K Mohan Kumar's election pamphlet has not a word against Prasanth. Instead, it is a long breathless rant against the Pinarayi government. Even when the Pollution Control Board recently censured the corporation for not complying with solid waste management rules, the Congress campaign was reluctant to use it as a bludgeon to hammer Prasanth with.

“The PCB might have pulled up the corporation but no one can say that this mayor and his team have not tried,” said FRAT patron Paraniyam.

The corporation's dry waste segregation programme and its measures to transport liquid waste to a sewage plant in the outskirts of the city have added to the mayor's aura. “Prasanth is young and has a clean image. He would definitely catch more votes than any other CPM candidate,” said M V Sugathan, another FRAT leader.

The Congress leadership is fully aware of the threat that Prasanth poses that it has asked its most popular leaders, A K Antony and Oommen Chandy, to concentrate more on Vattiyoorkavu.

Betrayal of Kummanam

VK Prasanth
VK Prasanth engaged in the flood relief works.

There is yet another reason why the Congress has panicked. The BJP is virtually out of contention. The RSS, which had steered the party's election campaigns since 2014, has turned its back on the campaign. Even senior BJP leaders have kept away. The BJP is now forced to import workers from other constituencies to work for its candidate S Suresh.

Sources inside the BJP said staunch RSS and BJP workers were pained by the way in which Kummanam Rajasekharan was first invited to be the candidate and then snubbed. “They believe that Suresh had stealthily worked for the candidature and, when the moment came, backstabbed Kummanam,” sources said.

Kummanam was there for the ritualistic 'all smiles' photo-op at the start of the BJP campaign but is nowhere to be seen now. O Rajagopal, the BJP's tallest leader in the state and who had first proposed Kummanam's name, too is missing in action.

A weak BJP show, it is feared, will translate into a better CPM show. The BJP's rise in the constituency since 2014 has largely been at the expense of the Left, which was relegated to the third position.

Nair squads for Congress

Analysis | Mayor's aura may prove dye is not caste in Vattiyoorkavu bypoll
NDA candidate S Suresh during the election campaign.

Fearing that voters deserting the BJP this time will gravitate towards Prasanth, the Congress is desperately trying to consolidate Nair votes in the constituency. Vattiyoorkavu has perhaps the highest concentration of Nairs in the state; nearly 45 per cent of voters are said to be Nairs.

After Nair Service Society supremo G Sukumaran Nair made it abundantly clear that his sympathies lie with the UDF, the NSS Trivandrum Taluk Union is all set to attempt something unprecedented: form squads to campaign against both the CPM and the BJP.

“There are 40 'karayogams' within the constituency and we have called up all of them and asked them to begin squad work,” said K R G Unnithan, a prominent taluk union leader. One of them, the Chettamangalam NSS 'karayogam', has a problem. It is pro-BJP.

“We understand that but since the NSS leadership has passed strict instructions they cannot violate them,” Unnithan said. As a compromise, the Chettamangalam 'karayogam' has agreed not to openly canvas for the BJP candidate.

Caste counterpunch

Mohan Kumar
UDF candidate in Vattiyoorkavu Mohan Kumar during election campaign.

Nonetheless, for the Congress and Mohan Kumar, the NSS aggression could have a flip side: The counter consolidation of Ezhavas, the next powerful community in Vattiyoorkavu. The SNDP Thiruvananthapuram unit is especially elated that the CPM had finally shown the nerve to pick an Ezhava candidate for a Nair-dominated constituency.

“We are told that the NSS is going all out to secure a win for its Congress Nair candidate. If that is the case then we will be there for Prasanth, the only Ezhava candidate in the fray,” said a top office-bearer of the SNDP Thiruvananthapuram unit.

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