In the largest show of strength Kerala’s hilly northern district Wayanad has ever seen, tens of thousands of people hailing from different walks of life accorded a grand reception to their former Lok Sabha representative and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the afternoon of Tuesday, 11 April.
On his first visit to the constituency after disqualification from the Lok Sabha, Rahul was accompanied by his sister and fellow party leader Priyanka.
They landed at Kalpetta, the district headquarters, at around 3.30 pm by helicopter from the Kannur International Airport, about 110 km away.
They were accompanied by AICC general secretaries KC Venugopal and Tariq Anvar.
When the helicopter landed on Kallpetta’s prestigious SKMJ School grounds, Congress workers waved national flags.
They raised slogans supporting their leader’s efforts to uphold national unity and fight what they call the draconian regime of Narendra Modi.
They shouted that no force could alienate Rahul from their hearts.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran, Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly VD Satheesan, Indian Union Muslim League leader Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal and RSP Lok Sabha member NK Premachandran were among the leaders who welcomed Rahul and Priyanka at the helipad.
Related: Congress holds nationwide protests over Rahul disqualification
‘Disqualification strengthened my ties with Wayanad’
In an emotional speech addressing those who voted for him in the last Lok Sabha election in Wayanad, Rahul said he was fearless, and it would be impossible for the BJP government to intimidate him.
“The Parliament member position is just a tag. The BJP can take away that tag. They can kick me out of the House or land me in jail. But nobody can stop me from representing the people of Wayanad,” he said while addressing the roadshow in Kalpetta.
“The disqualification strengthened my relationship with Wayanad. I will continue to fight for your pressing demands, like the lifting of the buffer zone, establishing a medical college, and removing the night travel ban. I will be with you in the fight for a dignified life,” Rahul said.
“I have been fighting the BJP for a long time. But they are still unaware of why I am fighting them. They think I would be scared if they sent the police to my home. Many people in Kerala lost their houses in the massive floods. So I don’t care about losing my house,” he said.
“This is the fight between two perceptions. I asked about a businessman in Parliament. There was no reply. When they disqualified me, I sent two letters to the speaker. Directly met him and asked why they disqualified me. The speaker said he had no other way,” Rahul said.
Priyanka said Wayanad knew Rahul far better than anybody else. Rahul was brave, she said.
“He told me to talk to you as if talking to my family members. Now I feel I am at my home,” said Priyanka.
Within minutes of the landing, Rahul and Priyanka boarded an open vehicle with Kerala leaders for a massive road show titled “Sathyamev Jayathe”.
The roadshow covers the whole length and width of Kalpetta, facilitating people who wait in different parts to get a glimpse of the leader.
Late in the evening, a mammoth public meeting is expected to be held in the presence of Rahul and Priyanka.
A galaxy of writers, artists, and cultural icons in Kerala will reportedly address the meeting to express their solidarity with the leader in his fight for protecting democracy and secularism.
The event is being referred to as a cultural and democratic congregation.
The grand reception indicates that Wayanad continues to be the preferred constituency of Rahul.
The Priyanka factor
Congress insiders say Priyanka is expected to seek a mandate in the ensuing Lok Sabha election from Wayanad if the upper courts refuse to lift Rahul’s disqualification in the immediate future.
Priyanka will be the Congress’ choice for Wayanad till Rahul clears the disqualification-related complications.
So, the leadership ensured her presence during the massive reception on Tuesday.
Ahead of the event, Congress workers distributed a signed letter from Rahul across the constituency and promised his continued patronage to the constituency.
Written as an emotional reconnect, it had Rahul assuring voters that he would continue to work for the people of Wayanad and be involved in their survival struggles.
A traditional citadel of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, Wayanad shares borders with the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu and the Mysore and Chamarajanagar districts of Karnataka.
During the grand reception, the UDF ensured the participation of its workers from the Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad, Kannur, and Kasaragod districts, and normal life in Wayanad stood still since the morning.
LIVE: Shri @RahulGandhi and Smt. @priyankagandhi hold roadshow in Kalpetta, Wayanad.https://t.co/QLat95Rn6H
— Congress Kerala (@INCKerala) April 11, 2023
The Rahul-Wayanad equation
Rahul last visited Wayanad in February, and he chose that occasion to come down heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged attempts to protect the nefarious interests of business magnate Gautam Adani.
After his disqualification from the Lok Sabha, the phone and internet services at his local office in Kalpetta were severed by public sector BSNL.
When Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from Lok Sabha, Kerala Chief Minister and CPI(M) Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan was among the traditional political rivals of the Congress who put their hatred on hold, at least temporarily, and came out in support of him.
This was in contradiction to attempts of the CPI(M) and the LDF in the last four years to dub him the weakest Lok Sabha member from Kerala.
A year has passed since members of the CPI(M)’s student wing Students Federation of India (SFI) ransacked his local office and placed a plantain tree on his chair to protest his inaction and silence over the buffer zone controversy that rocked the state.
Now, the support Vijayan and other LDF leaders extended over the disqualification of Rahul could cost them dearly. For one, denouncing Rahul as Kerala’s weakest MP would be challenging.
Besides becoming the focal point of anti-Modi forces at the national level, Rahul has now indicated that he will not abandon the Wayanad constituency.
Also read: Rahul Gandhi ‘forgives’ those who vandalised his Wayanad office
The Left’s conundrum
Four years ago, the national-level Congress-Left unity was broken when Rahul chose to contest in Wayanad.
Rahul Gandhi’s appearance on the electoral scene in Kerala energised the UDF and helped it to win 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies of the state.
Now, the LDF finds a much stronger Rahul, displaying a renewed vigour to fight Modi and the BJP.
It would be tough for the LDF to ensure a large-scale political battle against Rahul and UDF in Wayanad and all other constituencies in Kerala.
If Rahul helps the UDF win most of the Lok Sabha seats from Kerala, as he did in 2019, the Left’s representation in the Lok Sabha will remain meagre.
In the present Lok Sabha, the CPI(M) has only one member from Kerala — AM Arif, who won from Alappuzha.
The CPI(M) and the CPI have two members from Tamil Nadu.
The Left parties are alliance partners of the DMK, along with Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) — two parties they oppose in Kerala.
Rahul Gandhi remains the biggest advantage regarding the Lok Sabha election in Kerala for the Congress and the UDF.
A minority vote consolidation in Rahul’s favour could make the situation easy for the UDF. The strong anti-incumbency feeling prevailing in Kerala against the Vijayan government will also benefit the UDF.