After the humiliatingly one-sided Lok Sabha election in May, the ruling Left Democratic Front in Kerala has steered the state politics to level playing field. The byelections to the Kerala Legislative Assembly also proved that no party can claim hegemony over any seat in the state, except perhaps some of the CPM bastions or Muslim League strongholds in northern Kerala. If the LDF could wrest Pala from the Kerala Congress and the UDF could wrest Aroor from the CPM, nothing is impossible.
The election results also pointed to the emerging trend that the decisive factor in Kerala politics is an alliance's perceived ability to resist the BJP juggernaut which has dominated almost all parts of the country. Though a negligible presence in the state politics, the SDPI's about-turn serves to be an indication of things to come. The party which had aligned behind the Congress-led United Democratic Front in the general election threw its weight behind the LDF in the Konni and Vattiyoorkkavu bypolls. However, in Manjeswaram, the other assembly segment where the BJP was considered to be a force to reckon with, the SDPI voted for the Muslim League. The SDPI's political line was confined to see to it that the BJP was kept at bay. The trend explains chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's claim that the ruling front had gained back the minority support since the rout in the Lok Sabha poll.
Though the Congress swept the parliamentary election by projecting itself as the only viable alternative to the BJP, it could not ensure the support of the minorities in the assembly byelection five months later. The party lost two of its sitting seats in Konni and Vattiyoorkkavu. Yet the party found solace in the advances it made in Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury's bold move to visit party colleague Muhammed Yusuf Tarigami who is in house arrest in Kashmir could have send across the right signals to the electorate in Kerala. So does the Muslim League's decision to send a delegation to Assam to declare solidarity with the multitudes kept out of the controversial National Population Register.
Attending a television debate, Shanimol Usman, who stormed the Left bastion of Aroor, declared with pride that she was a grandmother. Interestingly, the 53-year-old was the youngest of the UDF candidates. The Congress leadership did not think it appropriate to add to its younger generation represented by Roji M John, V T Balram, Shafi Parambil and K S Sabarinathan. They conveniently forgot their own strategy of wresting the Alathur Lok Sabha constituency with the help of a young and energetic Remya Haridas.
On the other hand, CPM leaders took the cue and fielded as many youngsters as possible. The strategy paid off. The byelection results were a vote of confidence on youth.
The political transformation at the booth level in Vattiyoorkkavu was interesting. The CPM led in only four booths in the assembly segment in general election. In fact, it was pushed to the third position. Yet five months down the line, city mayor V K Prashanth emerged victorious, leading in 135 booths. The CPM led in only 18 booths in 2016, when Congress leader K Muraleedharan led in 82 booths to be reelected as MLA. The Congress led in 85 booths in the assembly segment in the parliamentary election but could retain the edge in only 24 booths in the assembly byelection. The BJP's performance was pathetic. From leading in 47 booths in 2016 and 79 in the 2019 general election, the party slid to a lead in only nine booths.
The young mayor was not the only factor that helped the LDF to emerge as the dark horse in Vattiyoorkkavu. The CPM district committee had put in place as an ambitious plan to employ a polling squad per 25 voters. The squads went from door to door to campaign for Prashanth. The party relied on legwork than projecting its leaders including the chief minister.
The UDF campaign managers were in distress. A leader who was supposed to campaign amid voters who resided outside the constituency was lamenting that he could lay his hand on only 600 to 700 names. He was expecting at least 5,000 names.
The byelections were bereft of any significant waves but the fronts differed widely in their style of functioning in Vattiyoorkkavu and Konni. The CPM went about in its characteristically disciplined say while the Congress workers bickered. The UDF benefited in Aroor, where both the alliances fought equally. The CPM might have suffered from an intra-party rivalry in its traditional stronghold as the Congress lost two of its seats further south.
The byelection results also bore testimony to a popular mood against unnecessary intervention from communal associations in politics. Yet the parties opted for traditional methods like wooing dominant communities in local areas by carefully picking campaigners from the same community.
Prashanth has shifted from Kazhakkoottam to Vattiyoorkavu, as M C Kamaruddeen shifted from Trikkaripur to Manjeswaram and Shanimol Usman shifted from Alappuzha to Aroor. The six new MLAs have no time to rest on their laurels. They will soon join the other legislators in guarding their seats in the 2021 assembly election.