Business Standard

It may not be a cakewalk for Rahul, Cong in Kerala

In the run-up to Lok Sabha polls, LDF appears to be better placed than in 2019 and BJP is leaving no stone unturned to emerge as a challenger in the state, writes


In the current political landscape, the notion of a wave of support for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi may seem far-fetched to many. Yet, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the Congress was nearly obliterate­d from the political map with a mere 52 seats (and the United Progressiv­e Alliance with 91), it was a surge of support for Gandhi in the South that helped keep the party relevant. The Congress and its allies secured 19 of their seats from Kerala, buoyed by the fact that, for the first time, a national leader and member of the Nehru-gandhi family was contesting from Kerala. Only once before in Kerala’s history has the Congress and its allies fared better -- during the post-emergency elections in 1977 when they swept all 20 seats. On both occasions, in 2019 and 1977, the Congress suffered losses in large parts of the country.

Will the Sahyadri ranges provide a bulwark for the party and its allies once again? Political pundits unanimousl­y suggest that the state is not experienci­ng a discernibl­e Gandhi wave this time around. Unlike the previous election, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) is on solid ground, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to pose a strong challenge in two seats in Kerala – Thrissur and Thiruvanan­thapuram.

The CPM is already making strides on the battlefiel­d, having finalised its candidates’ list, which includes political heavyweigh­ts like former health minister K K Shailaja, former finance minister Thomas Isaac, and state Cabinet minister K Radhakrish­nan. The party will run in 15 seats in the state, while its allies, the Communist Party of India (CPI), will contest four seats and the Kerala Congress (M) one seat. This comes at a time when all the incumbent members of the Congress and the UDF are expected to get another chance. Last week, the LDF even managed to wrest a total of four seats from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP in local body byelection­s held across several districts.

Meanwhile, the BJP is pulling out all the stops to secure victories in Thrissur and Thiruvanan­thapuram. “Thiruvanan­thapuram has always been a BJP stronghold, while in Thrissur, the party is fielding Suresh Gopi, a film superstar turned politician. Hence, the glamour factor is certainly in play. These two seats hold strong potential for the party, rather than seats like Kasargod," observed A Jayashanka­r, a senior political analyst. In the past two months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited Thrissur twice, underscori­ng the significan­ce of the constituen­cy.

Still, the Congress and its allies, according to most opinion polls, have the upper hand in Kerala. Furthermor­e, in 2019, half of the UDF, led by the Congress, won with a margin of more than 100,000 votes. However, the party is grappling with internal strife ahead of the elections, with a public spat between Congress state President K Sudhakaran and the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly V D Satheesan. Sudhakaran was caught on the microphone using profanity while questionin­g why Satheesan was at a party event in Alappuzha.

The BJP is not without its share of problems. In an embarrassm­ent, a promotiona­l song released by the Kerala BJP urged people to defeat the “government at the Centre that is known for corruption”. Adding to the state leadership’s woes, a controvers­y erupted over the party’s “upper caste mindset” when a poster announced that Kerala BJP President K Surendran would have lunch with “SC and ST leaders” on February 20. On the other side, the CPM is dealing with corruption allegation­s against the chief minister’s daughter, Veena Vijayan, who continues to face scrutiny from central agencies. Asked about the electoral outcome, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed confidence in securing victory in all 20 parliament­ary seats in the state, citing the good governance practices introduced by his administra­tion.

This time, it may not be a cakewalk for Gandhi either, as CPI senior leader Annie Raja could be the challenger to Gandhi in the Wayanad constituen­cy. The National Democratic Alliance, too, is expected to field a strong candidate this time. In Thiruvanan­thapuram, too, where the Congress’ Shashi Tharoor is the sitting candidate, there is speculatio­n that the BJP could field Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasek­har or actor Shobhana or another Union minister. “Here the advantage for the Congress is that anybody can win from Wayanad, it is their fortress. On the other hand, in Thiruvanan­thapuram, Tharoor’s popularity as a global citizen is unmatchabl­e," Jayashanka­r added.

For the time being, it seems to be difficult for the Congress to replicate the 2019 show.

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