Analysis | 2019 repeat gives Congress fuel for 2026 Kerala race

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The tally comes as a huge win for Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan (left). K C Venugopal, Adoor Prakash and Shashi Tharoor secured important wins for the UDF. Graphic: Created using Canva

Had it not been for BJP candidate Suresh Gopi’s win in Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency, the day would have belonged to Congress in Kerala. The Congress and its allies almost repeated their 2019 Lok Sabha election performance winning 18 of the 20 seats, leaving one each to the CPM and the BJP. Last time the tally was 19 of 20. This time the Congress won 14 out of 16 seats it contested while its allies IUML won two and RSP and Kerala Congress one each.

Despite the Suresh Gopi show in Thrissur – the first Lok Sabha win by a BJP candidate in Kerala – taking some sheen off the Congress performance, the party has all the reasons to cheer. A victory of this magnitude was a necessity for the party to keep the workers' morale high after the shock defeat of 2021 assembly polls.

Three years since the rout, a strong anti-incumbency wave against the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has helped the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) record another thumping win in LS polls. While the Congress lost Alappuzha seat to CPM in 2019, this time it was determined to wrest the seat by fielding AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal there. Venugopal had represented Alappuzha in the assembly and parliament segments and he wields some clout among the electorate. The strategy worked with Venugopal trouncing CPM’s sitting MP A M Arif by 63,513 votes.

However, for what Congress gained in Alappuzha was squandered in Alathur, where sitting MP Ramya Haridas, the lone woman candidate fielded by the Congress, lost to CPM’s K Radhakrishnan, a state minister. The biggest political loss, however, hit the Congress in Thrissur where BJP opened its LS account. BJP’s Suresh Gopi defeated CPI’s V S Sunil Kumar by 74,686 votes and pushed Congress’s K Muraleedharan to the third spot.

Muraleedharan’s candidature was celebrated initially as he was shifted from his sitting seat of Vadakara to checkmate the popularity of Suresh Gopi in Thrissur as well as to undo the damage caused by the switching of his sister Padmaja Venugopal to BJP. The initial fanfare, however, faded as the campaign progressed and the three-way contest made it difficult for pollsters to predict the outcome. In Thrissur, Congress’s vote share has come down from 39.83% in 2019 to 30.35% while Suresh Gopi’s 28.19 per cent (2019) has gone up to 38.14 per cent.

Though the Congress’s Muraleedharan experiment failed in Thrissur, the decision to field Palakkad MLA Shafi Paramabil proved to be a master stroke as he decimated popular CPM veteran K K Shailaja by a massive 1,14,506 votes. Shafi’s authentic victory amid alleged attempts to paint him in communal colours adds glitz to the Congress tally as it proves his secular credentials. The vote share indicates how deep he could cut into sections across the constituency.

The coastal belt comprising a large section of Latin Catholic voters saved Shashi Tharoor once again as he faced the toughest battle in his electoral career from BJP’s Rajeev Chandrasekhar. Had Tharoor lost the fight, it would have been a huge loss for the party especially when the national mandate has shown signs of a long-pending Congress revival.

In Kannur, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran recorded a stunning victory beating CPM strongman M V Jayarajan by 1,08,982 votes. Sudhakaran’s stunning victory despite his long-term colleague C Raghunadh standing against him on a BJP ticket has come as a huge relief for him at a time when he has been facing stiff resistance within the party. The thumping win amid a stellar performance by the party saves his post and face too.

Amid the solid performance by most of the Congress candidates, Adoor Prakash faced a tough fight in Attingal. By the end of an edge-of-the-seat thriller, Prakash defended his seat by a wafer thin margin of 684 votes – the lowest among the lot (ECI has not declared the final result). The huge drop in his margin despite a UDF wave elsewhere will be a matter to be examined just like the defeats in Thrissur and Alathur.

The 18/20 tally comes as a huge win for Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan who headed the party’s campaign while Sudhakaran was mostly confined to his constituency. Satheesan can take the credit for the victory especially since there were no visible reasons like the Sabarimala protest or Rahul Gandhi wave which propelled the UDF’s 2019 show. It is just that he will have to look beyond the traditional election strategies tailored for the LDF vs UDF fight in the next assembly polls due in 2026. The BJP’s Thrissur win in effect could have an impact on the state’s political landscape as a whole.

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