Column | The sixth-year battle for Thrikkakara

The candidates of Thrikkakara bypoll: UDF's Uma Thomas (left) and LDF's Jo Joseph (right).

May 25 marked the sixth anniversary of the swearing in of the first Pinarayi government. Six days from now, Thrikkakara will decide whether the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will continue his political juggernaut at the helm of affairs, or receive his first political setback.

The electorate at Thrikkakara have two possibilities: 1. Rally behind the government that has been going ahead with its neo development agenda including the SilverLine project or 2. give the government a political shock in the May 31 by-election, if they are against the agenda.

The decision of the voters will be known when the votes are counted on June 3.

Vengara and Thrikkakara

The previous Pinarayi government faced its first bypoll at Vengara in Malappuram. Ernakulam and Malappuram districts had stood by the Congress-led United Democratic Front during the two Assembly polls, despite a Left wave sweeping across the State. The political circumstances now are different from Vengara, when it went to a bypoll in 2017.

Doubts have been raised over whether the government's prestigious SilverLine project has the total support of the CPM. The questions raised at the party's State conference at Kochi, and later at its national Congress in Kannur point at the apprehensions raised within the CPM. The next natural question ahead of the bypoll will be whether the project has the support of the people.

The Left Democratic Front has understood the question, and it explains why Chief Minister Vijayan himself is leading the campaign for the by-election from the front. Development, price hike and waterlogging will be the major issues that will seal the fate of candidates at Thrikkakara.

CPM upbeat

CPM State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has claimed the other day that the LDF will wrestle Thrikkakara from the UDF. The LDF has unleashed an unprecedented campaign in the constituency in the hope of pulling out a surprise win.

Despite a section of hardcore LDF workers are apprehensive of whether its candidate, Jo Joseph, is a Church nominee, the Front feels that his candidature could create fissures in the UDF's Christian vote bank. They are also hopeful that the Pinarayi Vijayan factor could split the Muslim votes as well. The LDF is hoping that the voters will buy its argument that a government representative will be more appropriate for Thrikkakara for the next four years.

Still, LDF has its constraints in Thrikkakara. Though CPM and LDF have solid vote base in almost all constituencies in Kerala, it cannot be the same in a completely urbanised Thrikkakara. The constituency has changed over the years. It is no more the same Assembly segment with adivasi colonies, and a significant number of Dalit votes. It is now the city centre of Kochi, and the fact that there are no sure adivasi or Dalit votes could give sleepless nights to CPM.

Both Fronts exude confidence

The Congress and UDF were initially awed by the LDF campaign that fielded the chief minister, ministers and MLAs in the constituency. Overcoming the initial shock, the UDF caught up with the LDF, thanks to its grassroots-level organisational strength -- something that makes the Congress unit in Ernakulam district stand apart from its counterparts in other districts.

The Congress has booth committees across the Ernakulam district. Though not all committees are strong, they all have workers. The Congress had failed to prepare a list of voters living outside the segment when Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram went to bypoll in 2019. In Thrikkakara, the list was completed within a week, reflecting the effective organisational structure at the local level.

Party leaders, too, have put aside their differences to put up a united front. Ignoring the row with the new leadership, Oommen Chandy has been making house visits in Thrikkakara. Ramesh Chennithala and VD Satheesan, too, have given a break to their hostility with each other.

The Congress believes that its candidate, a pleasant Uma Thomas has an edge over LDF's energetic Jo Joseph. The party also feels that she would also win a section of Hindu votes that would otherwise go to the BJP.

The political scenario in Kerala has changed following a series of defeats the UDF faced at the hustings. Both the Fronts were neck-and-neck once. The upper hand LDF has received following two back-to-back Assembly election wins cannot be ignored even while assessing various factors that may or may not support either of the Fronts in Thrikkakara.

UDF may be confident that it could stop the LDF juggernaut in the Ernakulam district. The Front had retained Vengara, but with lesser votes. The winning margin in Thrikkakara, irrespective of the Front that wins, will fuel further political discussions.

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