No time to rest in Kerala as parties gear up for by-elections

Lined up are the upcoming bypolls in the Palakkad and Chelakkara Assembly constituencies. And maybe the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat as well.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jun 08, 2024 | 2:00 PMUpdatedJun 08, 2024 | 2:00 PM

File photo of voters in Kerala

Following the Lok Sabha elections, party leaders and strategists in Kerala are in a phase of deep analysis.

They are scrutinising the recent poll outcomes to understand voter behaviour and identify areas for improvement.

However, they will soon find themselves thrust back into the thick of preparations as the political landscape in the state is set to heat up again.

Lined up are the upcoming by-elections in the Palakkad and Chelakkara Assembly constituencies. And maybe the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat as well.

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The scenario

The by-elections in the Palakkad and Chelakkara Assembly constituencies have been triggered by their MLAs — Shafi Parambil and K Radhakrishnan, respectively — being elected to the Lok Sabha.

Shafi was elected from Vadakara and Radhakrishnan from the Alathur Lok Sabha constituency.

This necessitated the UDF and the LDF to identify urgently and promote candidates with strong winnability prospects.

Adding to the political fervour is the situation in Wayanad. Here, a cloud of suspense lingers as the nation awaits Rahul Gandhi’s decision on whether he will represent Wayanad or Raebareli in the Lok Sabha.

If Rahul opts for Raebareli, Wayanad will also see a by-election, further intensifying the political activity in the state.

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Congress’ dilemma

For Congress, the byelections are just another opportunity to fortify their influence in Kerala.

Congress will soon begin its efforts to secure victories in the key Assembly seats of Palakkad and Chelakkara.

In the case of Wayanad, the suspense remains as Rahul Gandhi has yet to make his intentions known. As of now, the state leadership can only speculate.

At Chelakkara, a tough battle awaits the party as it is a CPI(M) bastion.

The constituency, reserved for members of Scheduled Caste (SC) communities, has since 1996 been represented by a CPI(M) candidate.

In the 2021 Assembly polls, Congress candidate CC Sreekumar lost to CPI(M)’s Radhakrishnan by a margin of 39,400 votes.

This time, it is said, the grand old party is considering fielding Ramya Haridas, a prominent name and a former Alathur MP who lost to Radhakrishnan in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls.

However, internal party dynamics pose a significant challenge. Reports of infighting between Ramya and some leaders of the district committee have surfaced, necessitating swift resolution to present a united front before the upcoming bypoll.

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In Palakkad

In the last election, Congress’ Shafi clinched victory with a narrow margin of 3,859 votes, with BJP’s E Sreedharan coming in second.

For the upcoming bypolls, Congress is said to be weighing its options between Youth Congress state president Rahul Mamkootathil and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) vice-president VT Balram.

Mamkootathil appears to have an edge over Balram as he is known for his articulate and clear stance on issues.

He has emerged as a youth leader capable of taking on CPI(M) leaders directly.

His frequent appearances in news channel debates have made him a recognisable figure, which the party believes could be advantageous in securing the seat.

However, Balram — a two-time MLA who represented Thrithala constituency in the 13th and 14th Kerala Legislative Assemblies — is also a strong candidate.

He wrested back the constituency from CPI(M), which had represented it from 1996 to 2006.

In the 2021 Kerala Assembly elections, he lost to CPI(M)’s MB Rajesh.

In the case of Wayanad, speculations are rife that if Rahul chooses Raebareli, then Priyanka Gandhi might contest from here, adding a high-profile dimension to the race.

If the All India Congress Committee (AICC) asked the state leadership to field someone from there, then K Muraleedharan is a strong contender.

Following his emotional decision to refrain from contesting after his defeat in Thrissur, the party is considering offering him the Wayanad seat as a gesture to pacify him.

Muraleedharan’s acceptance could significantly bolster Congress’ prospects in Wayanad.

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Chance for redemption

For the CPI(M)-led LDF, the upcoming by-polls will be a chance for redemption. The coalition is certain to gear up for a significant political comeback following a disappointing performance in the recent Lok Sabha polls.

The party is looking at the upcoming elections as a crucial opportunity to regain its footing and silence the critics who have mocked its electoral setbacks.

Insiders revealed that CPI(M) was strategising to retain its stronghold in Chelakkara while also setting its sights on capturing Palakkad.

The leadership was reportedly confident that with the right candidates, these goals were well within reach.

If a bypoll were to happen in Wayanad, the LDF might field CPI’s Annie Raja once again.

Though she lost to Rahul Gandhi by more than 3 lakh votes, the front was said to be of the belief that her previous run in Wayanad would position her as a familiar and potentially unifying candidate for the region.

A preliminary decision on the candidature is anticipated when the LDF convenes shortly.

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Renewed vigour

In the case of BJP, it is certain to gear up for the upcoming byelections in the Palakkad and Chelakkara Assembly constituencies with renewed energy and a strategic focus.

Bolstered by its performance in the recent Lok Sabha polls in Kerala, the party is optimistic about increasing its vote share and maybe another stint in the Assembly after O Rajagopal’s victory in 2016.

The BJP’s confidence stems from the notable vote share it garnered in the Lok Sabha elections, signalling a potential shift in voter sentiment in Kerala.

Party leaders believe this momentum will be pivotal as they approach the byelections in Palakkad and Chelakkara.

They will probably set their eyes on Palakkad where Sreedharan lost to Shafi by 3,859 votes in the 2021 Assembly election.

The party will also take a call on Wayanad if a byelection were to happen.

It will be interesting to see if the party decides to go with state president K Surendran once again. Surendran had come third in the recent Lok Sabha polls.

In short, it will again be a tough time for the fronts as they gear up for the electoral battle by scrutinising potential candidates not only for their popularity but also for their ability to connect with voters and address local issues effectively.

The one thing that will connect these front’s candidature selection will be its emphasis on selecting individuals who can resonate with the constituency’s demographic and socio-economic profile.

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)