Kottayam: The fierce public campaigning for the September 5 bypoll in Puthuppally assembly constituency came to an end on Sunday with all the political parties in the fray performing a show of strength in a frenzied atmosphere.
Pampady, small town in the Puthuppally constituency, turned a sea of people in the afternoon with thousands flocking there waving flags and shouting slogans. Supporters of the Congress-led UDF, CPM-led LDF and BJP-led NDA gathered in large numbers in the town marking the culmination of the one-month-long electioneering which made Puthuppally the political epicentre of Kerala for the time being.
In an unusual gesture in Kerala politics, UDF candidate Chandy Oommen stayed away from the celebratory atmosphere as a mark of respect to his father, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, whose death necessitated the bypoll.
Earlier in the day, he arrived at Pampady and canvassed votes along with Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran.
LDF’s Jaick C Thomas, who is contesting his third election from Puthuppally, and BJP’s Lijin Lal found themselves immersed in the crowd as the high-pitch campaign peaked. Monday will be the day for silent campaign and Puthuppally will vote on Tuesday. The votes will be counted on September 8, Friday.
The bypoll assumes political significance as it will elect the successor of Congress stalwart Oommen Chandy who represented the constituency for a record 53 years at a stretch.
The Congress is fighting the election primarily hoping to ride on the purported sympathy wave triggered by the death of Oommen Chandy. The former CM, with his unique style of public life based on the principles of philanthropy, has assumed a larger-than-life image following his death.
UDF leaders have also been repeatedly saying that the bypoll will reflect the people’s anger against the LDF government in the wake of a series of corruption charges, price rise and tax hike.
The LDF, playing it smart, has been able to shift the focus of the poll talks to the alleged lack of infrastructure development in the constituency despite an-all powerful Oommen Chandy reigning there for over half a century.
The BJP which has always come to a distant third in the elections in Puthuppally has tried to make the bypoll an opportunity to send out a political message. The saffron party’s major poll narrative is that the LDF and UDF are engaged in a friendly match in Puthuppally. This is the first bypoll happening in Kerala after the formation of the opposition INDIA alliance at the national level. Both the Congress and CPM are part of the anti-BJP front.
Opposition Leader V D Satheesan is the chief strategist of the UDF in Puthuppally while Minister and CPM strongman in Kottayam V N Vasavan oversaw the LDF’s electioneering. The BJP state leadership was joined by national general secretary Radhamohan Aggrawal throughout the election works.
PCC president K Sudhakaran, AICC general secretary K C Venugopal, former Chief Minister A K Antony and newly appointed Congress Working Committee member Shashi Tharoor, MP, were among the star campaigners for Chandy Oommen.
For LDF, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addressed multiple election rallies on three days while his cabinet colleagues attended a number of meetings.
In his final press meet ahead of the open campaign, Satheesan sounded confident that Chandy Oommen will win by a thumping margin. Though he refused to give a number, he said the UDF has set itself a ‘dream-like target’. He said the poll verdict will reflect the strong anti-incumbency wave.
A day ago, CPM state secretary M V Govindan also exuded confidence that his party would win. "We will end the Congress dominance in Puthuppally," he said. Govindan even declared that the byelection would be an assessment of the Pinarayi Vijayan government. "Any such election would definitely be a verdict on the performance of the government," he said.
The state secretary said that, initially, the Congress had thought that the election would be a walkover. "But we veered the election from emotions to politics and development," Govindan said.