5 issues that may sway undecided voters in Kerala

Representational image. File photo: PTI

Pollsters have often noted that 25-30% voters make their choice very near to the election day. It has also been found that these undecided voters are swayed by events that take place mostly during the last days of the campaign. Onmanorama picks five proximate issues that could possibly play on the headspace of an undecided voter in Kerala.

Pinarayi vs the Gandhis
It was inevitable that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi would come to blows.

Ever since the LDF adopted the fight against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as its chief electoral strategy, there was no way such a vicious self-defeating exchange of malicious charges could have been avoided.

The CAA was an all-purpose issue for the LDF -- it could be used against both the BJP and the Congress. Against the BJP for the law's patent discrimination on religious grounds. And against the Congress for allegedly remaining tight-lipped in the face of such blatant violation of constitutional morality.

The Chief Minister travelled the length and breadth of Kerala saying that none of the 18 UDF MPs uttered a word against the CAA in Parliament. That the Congress manifesto did not have a mention of the CAA seemed to impute credibility to the LDF narrative.

Pinarayi Vijayan and Rahul Gandhi. Photo: Manorama/ PTI

At stake were the decisive Muslim votes. The only way for the Congress to counter this LDF onslaught was to militantly sell Pinarayi Vijayan as a Modi-pleaser.

Rahul Gandhi did just that on April 19 in Kannur. He wanted to know why the Kerala Chief Minister was being spared, though he was facing innumerable charges. Pinarayi hit back with contempt, reminded Rahul of an out-of-fashion sobriquet the BJP had once given him. It was left to sister Priyanka Gandhi to reveal the sharp glint of her sword. She called Pinarayi a match-fixer and asked why raids were not conducted against him.

The CM's return jab was to hint at her husband Robert Vadra's connection to the DLF real estate company and wanted to know how the company ended up paying Rs 170 crore to the BJP through electoral bonds. And the coup de grace: The CM said Rahul was not PM material as he had fled from his responsibilities at a critical moment for his party.

PM Modi was having the loudest laugh. "Even I have not criticised Rahul this way," he said. Pinarayi and Rahul have nearly managed to diminish the INDIA bloc into a big joke.

And such fratricide is taking place at the most inopportune moment: at the fag end of the Kerala campaign. Both the leaders, allies at the national level, have taken the worst accusations that can be hurled against each other and amplified them for the voters.
And the beneficiary, the BJP.

Barricaded Thrissur pooram
Strange things happened during Thrissur Pooram this year, barely a week before the polls.

The Swaraj Round was deserted on the night of the 'pooram'. The night procession of Thiruvambady 'bhagavathy' was blocked, forcing the elephant to return with the deity on its back. The 'panchavadya' percussionists had to abandon their drums. The famed 'pooram' fireworks were held not in the night but in the backdrop of the morning sky.

A view of Kudamattam during Thrissur Pooram. Photo: PTI

This was the second year in a row that police 'lathis' made bigger news than the sticks of the percussionists. Last year, for the first time in history, the police entered the Vadakkumnatha Temple premises and assaulted devotees. The same police commissioner who barricaded the Swaraj Round and Thekkinkad Maidan this time, Ankith Ashokan, was in charge then, too.

The arbitrary crowd control measures of the commissioner truncated this year's 'pooram'. The disruption of the 'pooram', the biggest cultural event of Thrissur, is certain to influence the Lok Sabha polls, at least in Thrissur, Chalakkudy and Alathur.

Though Ankith has been removed from the post, it is the LDF that is most likely to be affected by the fiasco. Even CPI candidate V S Sunil Kumar blamed the "unnecessary interference" of the police for the disastrous conduct of the 'pooram', and he has been busy knocking at doors, apologising.

The Congress candidate K Muraleedharan found in this yet another instance of the CPM's secret deal with the BJP to somehow engineer a BJP win in Thrissur.

The BJP candidate, Suresh Gopi, suspected a "Sabarimala-like operation". What he meant is not clear as the CPM's Sabarimala operation of sneaking in two women into the hill shrine had backfired big time in 2019.

Even then, police mishandling, and the LDF government’s decision to persist with Ankith as commissioner even after what he did last year, could work against the LDF candidate.

Modi’s hate speech
If at all his Eid wishes had deluded anyone in Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Banswara speech on April 21 was a wake-up call.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting. Photo: PTI

He made his own interpretation of the Congress manifesto to claim that the party, if voted to power, would usurp the gold and other ornaments of Hindu women, including their 'mangalsutra', and distribute it to Muslims, whom he called "infiltrators" and "those having more children". This is said to be Modi's most bigoted speech after he took over as Prime Minister.

As Gujarat Chief Minister he had said worse things. Refusing to create relief shelters for Muslim families after the Godhra killings in 2002, Modi had said that he did not want to create breeding centres for those who believe in "hum do, hamare pachees" (We two, for us 25).

However, this latest attempt to demonise a community is also read as a sign of panic. The low turnout during the first phase, especially in constituencies that BJP holds, seems to have made the party suddenly uncertain.

And in Kerala, at least among secular minds, this has reinforced the image of Modi as an inciter of communal hate and an unapologetic liar. The hate speech and the Election Commission's seeming reluctance to act against Modi will also be seen as proof that constitutional institutions have surrendered their independence under Modi.

The Banswara speech can work against BJP candidates in constituencies like Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur where even a marginal swing in votes could tilt the balance. And by invoking his predecessor Manmohan Singh’s speech in which he says that minorities, especially Muslims, "must have the first claim on resources", Modi might have done the Congress a favour, at least in Kerala.

Samastha-League rivalry
The anti-Muslim League faction in Samastha Kerala Jem-Iyythul Ulama, the most influential body of Muslim scholars in Kerala, has chosen the right time to strike: the last week of the campaign.

No less a person than Umar Faizi Mukkam, the Samastha state secretary and a member of the Mushavara, the highest decision-making body of Samastha, has lashed out at the League. He has not just expressed his bitterness with the League but has also urged the Muslim community to consider choosing an LDF candidate. This was unprecedented, a Samastha leader's public support for the LDF. Forget the UDF, no Samastha leader has ever voiced support even for the League.

Mukkam even gave extra thrust to Ponnani's CPM candidate K S Hamsa's most damning charge against the League. "Hamsa has spoken about the torture suffered by the great Hyderali Shihab Thangal (former League president). It is said that this had even led to his death. Shouldn't the League remove the doubts in the minds of the people," Mukkam said.

The torture Mukkam Faizi refers to is the Enforcement Directorate's questioning of Hyderali Shihab Thangal in a money laundering case. Hamsa has repeatedly blamed Kunhalikutty for the ordeal Thangal had to suffer. In fact, Hamsa was booted out of the League last year for saying this. Thangal's death is a deeply emotional issue for Muslims, especially in Malabar.

It looks like the anti-League Samastha faction is trying to maximise the resentment before voting begins. A group called Samastha Ponnani Collective, for instance, is now conducting an online quiz for women titled 'Intifada', Arab for uprising.

Most are fun questions drawn up to ridicule the League. A sample: The name of the political party that has given Samastha haters a chance to take over institutions run by Samastha? Options. A: Trinamool Congress. B: AAP. C: BSP. D: Muslim League. The quiz, with attractive prizes like gold coins, fans and cookers, is open till April 25.

The Samastha-League rift was first revealed in December 2021. The League wanted to use Friday prayers in mosques to mount a massive political offensive against the LDF government for handing over Wakf Board appointments to the PSC. Samastha president Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal put his foot down. Mutual suspicion intensified when Jifri Thangal bypassed the League and opened a direct channel of communication with Chief Minister Pianrayi Vijayan.

Latin church’s woes
Thiruvananathapuram Latin Archbishop Thomas J Netto chose the last Sunday before the polls to shock the congregation.

From the ordination ceremony of Msgr Thomas J Netto.

In a pastoral letter, read out in all churches under the Thiruvananthapuram Diocese, the Bishop told the faithful that the Church's finances were in such a bad state that it was finding it hard to meet the welfare needs of retired priests and the educational expenses of seminarians.

Three of the Church's bank accounts were frozen by the Centre last January, just days after the Church had to end the 140-day agitation against the Adani port. The Bishop said he had no choice but to lay bare Church's plight before the faithful because the Centre had refused to unfreeze the accounts even after repeated requests. The Church was suffering a loss of Rs 10-15 crore annually as a consequence.

The letter was a call to help but also a message to the believers who will go to vote on April 26.

The Church seemed far more resentful of the LDF Government. It were the actions taken by the State Government to quell the Vizhinjam agitation, it was rumoured, that eventually led to the freezing of accounts. Cases were slapped against even the Archbishop. The state government went to the extent of saying that the agitation had terrorist links, encouraging the central intelligence to put clamps on the Church's welfare and outreach programmes.

The Latin Church's late outburst will be to the advantage of Congress's Thiruvananthapuram candidate Shashi Tharoor.

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