A late af­ter­thought to ap­pease the Muslim voter back­fires on the saf­fron party

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

The Malap­pu­ram Lok Sabha by­poll in Ker­ala shut the back­door rather tight on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s at­tempt to gain a toe­hold in the state. Malap­pu­ram sim­ply voted the way it al­ways has, with P.K. Kun­halikutty of the In­dian Union Muslim League (IUML) polling over 515, 000 votes and romp­ing home with a mar­gin of 171,000 votes. It was al­most a re­peat of 2014 when the late E. Ahamed beat the rest by 194,739 votes.

Al­though the ver­dict was more or less a fore­gone con­clu­sion and nei­ther the BJP nor the rul­ing Left Demo­cratic Front fan­cied their prospects, both par­ties fought vig­or­ously to try and con­sol­i­date their re­spec­tive vote shares. For the BJP, Malap­pu­ram was cru­cial to prove that the party has a fu­ture in Ker­ala. It fielded N. Sreep­rakash, a Hindu lawyer, hop­ing to con­sol­i­date the 24 per cent Hindu vot­ers scat­tered across the con­stituency’s seven assem­bly seg­ments. It just wasn’t to be.

“Beef drowned us,” says a se­nior state BJP leader. “Our cam­paign was mis­di­rected and mis­man­aged. We should have fo­cused on the

Modi govern­ment’s good gov­er­nance and de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues.” The ‘beef’ here was the party’s de­ci­sion to change tack mid-cam­paign and try to woo the Muslim vote when they re­alised things were not go­ing well. And this they did with the party can­di­date promis­ing “qual­ity beef” from hy­gienic slaugh­ter­houses if the party won. Pre­dictably, the na­tional lead­er­ship frowned upon the tac­ti­cal shift. And the con­fu­sion quite sank the saf­fron boat (Sreep­rakash man­aged a mea­gre 65,000 votes).

The CPI(M), on the other hand, set for them­selves a more re­al­is­tic tar­get. Their limited pur­pose was to notch up a re­spectable num­ber of votes for their nom­i­nee, since a big loss would re­flect badly on the pop­u­lar­ity of the less-than-a-year-old Pi­narayi Vi­jayan-led LDF govern­ment. Party mem­bers heaved a sigh of re­lief when it was de­clared that their can­di­date won 340,000 of the to­tal 900,000-plus votes polled.

CPI(M) cen­tral com­mit­tee mem­ber A. Vi­ja­yaragha­van says, “Be­ing an IUML strong­hold, we fought the Malap­pu­ram elec­tion to re­duce the mar­gin of vic­tory and con­sol­i­date anti-IUML votes. We were suc­cess­ful in achiev­ing our tar­get.” Tongue in cheek, he added that the “BJP’s dis­mal per­for­mance is a bonus”. The beef bo­gey con­tin­ues to haunt the BJP in Ker­ala.

24 PER CENT of the vot­ers were Hindu in IUML-dom­i­nated Malap­pu­ram

RED BET­TER THAN ORANGE? LDF can­di­date M.B. Faisal (with gar­land) on the last day of the cam­paign

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