To woo Muslims in Vadakara, CPM reminds voters about BJP's Palakkad prospects

K K Shailaja greets voters during election campagin. Photo: Facebook/ KK Shailaja Teacher

April 2, 8.30 am. The mercury already touched 28°C. LDF's most popular candidate K K Shailaja, contesting in Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency, was starting her campaign for the day from Panniyannur in Thalassery Assembly Constituency.

Panniyannur grama panchayat is a CPM bastion, with 14 of the 15 wards with CPM and one with its junior ally CPI.

As Shailaja was running late by half an hour, Karayi Rajan -- a member of the CPM Kannur District Secretariat, the party's top decision-making body in the district -- took the stage.

Rajan called on the voters of Panniyannur to "ensure there is no byelection in Palakkad". The 67-year-old Shailaja's rival candidate in Vadakara is Congress's young Turk and MLA from Palakkad Shafi Parambil (41).

Shafi Parambil during a road show at Vadakara. Photo: Manorama

The UDF candidate in Vadakara, Rajan said, 'barely managed to win against an 88-year-old Sreedharan of BJP in Palakkad by 2,000 votes' (sic). The CPM "closed the account of the BJP in Kerala" when Education Minister V Sivakutty defeated BJP's sitting MLA O Rajagopal in Nemom in 2021, he said. But the secular people fear that if the UDF wins in the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency, the Palakkad assembly constituency will fall into the kitty of the BJP, said Rajan.

What Rajan said was till then a purposeful whisper campaign of the CPM in Vadakara. Perhaps, the brute majority of the party in Panniyannur encouraged Karayi Rajan to speak its strategy aloud.

Despite Shailaja's impressive CV as a four-time MLA, and her work as the Health Minister during the Nipah outbreak and the Covid pandemic, the CPM is resorting to fear-mongering of BJP in Palakkad to wrest back Vadakara, which has been voting for the Congress-led UDF since 2009.

According to the UDF camp, Vadakara has around 30 per cent to 35 per cent Muslim votes. However, the Muslims of the constituency are politically diverse. "The CPM is trying to consolidate the Muslim votes in its favour by invoking the fear of the BJP. But it is not working," said N Venu, convener of the UDF's campaign in Vadakara, and leader of the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI), formed after breaking away from CPM.

When Onmanorama caught up with Shailaja in the afternoon of the same day, she denied that the LDF and the CPM were running a fear-mongering campaign. "As a party and an alliance, we are not campaigning on those lines... But some people fear that. We never propagated that. Did you hear it?" she said.

Karayi Rajan is an influential leader of the CPM in Kannur and is from Thalassery. He and his brother Karayi Chandrasekharan are accused by the CBI of conspiracy in the murder of Popular Front of India worker Mohammed Fazal. They are also seasoned campaigners for the party.

When Shailaja was told of Karayi Rajan's speech, she said: "That's the ground reality. BJP came second in 2021. That is why people are saying if Shafi wins here, BJP may win in Palakkad. In speeches some people are expressing these fears. But I never say so," said Shailaja, who in 2021 won from Mattannur Assembly constituency with a margin of 60,963 votes, the highest in Kerala.

Congress's Shafi Parambil said the CPM should stop advocating for the BJP. "If there is a byelection happening in Palakkad... and I'm sure it will happen ... let them at least say CPM will win," he told Onmanorama.

CPM is right in saying that BJP is the second party in Palakkad. "But the first party is the Congress and the UDF. And they must not underestimate the secular credentials of the people of Palakkad," he said and added that he won despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief ministers campaigning for Sreedharan in 2021.

BJP's rise in Palakkad
BJP's O Rajagopal first contested in Palakkad in 1967 as a Bharatiya Jana Sangh candidate. The party then had a vote share of 10.22 per cent.

In 1982, when Rajagopal contested in Palakkad for the third time -- this time as a BJP candidate -- the vote share rose to 14.64 per cent.

O Rajagopal. Photo: Manorama

The BJP's vote share stayed between 10 per cent and 15 per cent till 2006 when O Rajagopal contested for the fourth time in Palakkad. That year, the party's vote share reached very close to 25 per cent, but it remained in the third position.

Shafi Parambil's reign began in 2011 when he became an MLA for the first time at the age of 28. That year, when Congress-led UDF won in Kerala, BJP's vote share in Palakkad slipped a tad below 20 per cent. C Udaybhaskar was the candidate.

In 2016, when the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF came to power, the BJP was catapulted to the second position in Palakkad for the first time, and the CPM was relegated to the third position.

Shafi Parambil retained the seat with a vote share of 41.77 per cent and a victory margin of 17,483 votes. But Sobha Surendran raised BJP's vote share to 29 per cent.

The year 2021 saw the closest election when BJP fielded 'Metro Man' E Sreedharan, who was then two months short of 89 years.

Shafi managed to retain the seat by defeating Sreedharan but his victory margin fell to 3,859 votes and his vote share dropped to 38 per cent.

Sreedharan took BJP's vote share above 35 per cent for the first time and cemented the party's second position in Palakkad.

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