The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) has some reasons to cheer in its first electoral test after its drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls.
The LDF seems to have made major gains in the assembly bypolls in five constituencies after the Sabarimala backlash it suffered earlier this year in the LS elections.
By wresting Konni from the United Democratic Front (UDF) after 23 years, the LDF has buried the ghosts of the Sabarimala backlash as the constituency is in Pathanamthitta district, which also houses the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fielded K Surendran, who led the Sabarimala protests, but managed to finish a poor third.
So the LDF can take solace in the fact that the Sabarimala issue is not raging in the minds of voters any more.
The LDF tactically avoided references to the Sabarimala issue. The opposition UDF was just hoping against hope that the benefits of LDF's initial tough line on Sabarimala will still accrue to it. That did not happen.
The BJP also adopted a not-so-stringent line on the issue of women's entry to Sabarimala following the Supreme Court order.
It feared that such a stance would, by default, help the UDF as in the Lok Sabha polls.
The UDF had won 19 of the 20 seats in Kerala with a lone seat, Alappuzha, electing an LDF lawmaker.
The BJP had come a cropper then too despite its high-voltage campaign based on an aggressive stance on Sabarimala.
The UDF camp was also complacent, as it gave undue importance to Nair Service Society's backing of its candidates via a policy of “right distance”.
No such consolidation of NSS votes happened in this bypoll as is clear from the nearly 10,000 vote mandate for the CPM candidate in Konni.
The UDF's debacle mainly stems from candidate selection woes.
In Konni, it rubbed Attingal MP Adoor Prakash, who vacated the Konni assembly seat, the wrong way.
His choice to contest Konni was ignored by the UDF leadership. It forgot that Konni was more of a fiefdom of Adoor Prakash rather than being a UDF bastion.
Prakash's personal connect with the voters was always the decisive factor which kept Konni in the UDF's kitty.
The UDF also failed to realise that once he is out of fray, Konni would not be a safe bet. So it should have at least picked a candidate of his choice so that Prakash would move heaven and earth to ensure a win.
The LDF's win in Vattiyoorkavu was also a vote against the prevailing caste equations. It fielded a young and dynamic Mayor, who did not belong to the Nair community.
The UDF and the BJP opted for Nair candidates but the community did not vote en masse to the UDF or the BJP as expected despite an open backing by the NSS.
So the LDF has ripped apart the perceived caste equations in Vattiyoorkavu to romp home.
The LDF can also claim that there is no anti-incumbency factor at play with just a notch over a year for the next assembly polls.
But worries remain.
The LDF bastion of Aroor looks shaky this time. The LDF considers Aroor as an aberration as UDF's Shanimol Usman may have garnered some sympathy votes as the lone UDF candidate to be defeated in LS Polls. Shanimol had lost from Alappuzha to Arif, who was the then Aroor legislator.
But even if that is the case, the LDF should do some soul searching on why it lost the popular vote in Aroor if it considers that there was no anti-incumbency factor at play.
The erosion of LDF votes in Manjeswaram is also another cause for concern.
LDF managers there see it as a consolidation of Muslim votes to defeat the BJP, which is in the second slot.
The LDF can bask in the glory of wresting two seats and that too UDF bastions.
It can also pat itself for a spirited performance in Ernakulam, where the UDF's victory margin dipped to just over 3,000.
The victories in Vattiyoorkvu and Konni may not necessarily be an endorsement of the state government's policies.
It is more of a negative vote against the sloppy UDF, which remained mired in factional feuds, caste and group equations even after the elections were announced. Four of the five seats in the Assembly polls had UDF legislators.
So it is definitely an achievement to wrest two seats though the LDF lost its sitting seat. But Assembly bypolls need not necessarily be a barometer to gauge popular mood, though it has an edge of over 10,000 votes when all the votes of all these constituencies are pooled together.
That can alter dramatically in the run-up to the next assembly polls due in 2021.
But as of now, it is advantage LDF, with some riders.
The BJP should also seriously tweak its Kerala plan as it continues to fare poorly in the state. That it lost ground in Vattiyoorkavu and Konni and Manjeswaram calls for serious introspection.
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