Lok Sabha elections: KC Venugopal’s candidature in Alappuzha raises another red flag in Left-INDIA relations

Venugopal's possible election to the Lok Sabha will facilitate the BJP gaining one more seat in the upper house.

ByK A Shaji

Published Mar 19, 2024 | 11:00 AMUpdatedMar 19, 2024 | 11:00 AM

K C Venugopal campaigns in Alappuzha after declaring of his candidature.

The candidature of AICC general secretary KC Venugopal in Kerala’s coastal Alappuzha constituency is becoming another bone of contention between the INDIA bloc and its constituent LDF.

The relations between the two are already sour, thanks to Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad.

Venugopal, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi and in charge of organisational affairs of the grand old party, is named the contestant from Alappuzha, which is now held by CPI (M)’s AM Ariff.

LDF convener EP Jayarajan said the front was taking the contest seriously and the CPI and the CPI(M) leaders decided not to take part in the INDIA rally in Mumbai on 17 March, marking the end of Gandhi’s Bharath Jodo Nyay Yatra, because of this rift.

“Right from the beginning, we raised objections against Rahul contesting in Wayanad. The Congress had no answers when we asked why Rahul preferred Wayanad to contest against the left parties without directly fighting with the BJP in a north Indian state. Now, Venugopal is trying to take on the CPI (M)’s sitting MP. Venugopal is already a Rajya Sabha member from Rajasthan with two more years to retire. Given Rajasthan’s changed power equations, that seat will likely go to BJP,” Jayarajan said.

Alappuzha was the lone Lok Sabha seat in Kerala, where the LDF won the 2019 general election with a slender majority.

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CM attacks Congress

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who addressed a massive rally of CPI leader Annie Raja, who is contesting against Gandhi in Wayanad two days ago, sought to know from the Congress high command about its objectives in this election.

CPI(M) candidate A M Ariff

CPI(M) candidate AM Ariff

“They fielded Rahul in Wayanad, saying it was his sitting seat. Then what’s the rationale for fielding Venugopal in Alappuzha, a sitting seat of the INDIA partner? Vacating a Rajya Sabha seat in Rajasthan halfway means helping the BJP, and the national leader, who is supposed to coordinate the opposition parties to ensure unity against the BJP, is contesting here to take on the CPI(M). Is it an ethical democratic practice?” asked Vijayan.

The chief minister is now on a whirlwind tour of all Lok Sabha constituencies in the state and at each public meeting, he is attacking Rahul and Venugopal for their alleged inability to take the BJP head-on and attempts to eclipse the left’s chances in Kerala.

On the other hand, the Congress social media managers are circulating the election poster of S Venktaesan, the CPI(M) candidate in Madurai in Tamil Nadu, in which Rahul Gandhi and MK Stalin are seen flanking the candidate.

They ask why the Tamil Nadu unit of the CPI(M) is not following Vijayan’s line against Rahul and why they did not include their party’s lone chief minister’s picture in the poster.

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‘Not a traditional CPI(M) citadel’

VD Satheesan, the chief campaign manager of the Congress, said the electoral prospects of CPI and CPI(M) in states outside Kerala remain highly dependent on the Congress’s support.

Venugopal in kashmir as part of first leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Venugopal in Kashmir during the first leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

He pointed out that the left parties prefer Congress support in West Bengal, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu. He also justified the decision to field Venugopal in Alappuzha, saying that the AICC general secretary had represented the constituency consecutively from 2009 to 2019.

“As Vijayan claims, it is not a traditional CPI(M) citadel. Last time, we could not get it, largely because Venugopal decided to remain out of the fray. This time, the Congress is keen on winning as many seats as possible in the Lok Sabha. The CPI(M) should not worry about our Rajya Sabha representation; we will lose a seat in Rajasthan. Still, we can compensate with more numbers from Karnataka and Telangana now,” he said.

KPCC acting president MM Hassan said Venugopal is just back in his old constituency with the decision to wrest it for the party after a break of five years, and it has nothing to do with the Opposition alliance.

“This is an election that will decide the future of the country. Our target this time is to win the maximum number of seats for Congress to eradicate this fascist government,” Venugopal told media persons in New Delhi when asked about his contest in Alappuzha.

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The fight in Alappuzha

Amidst all this hullaballoo, the candidature of Venugopal has added a new vigour to the contest and brought the constituency to the national limelight.

According to Alappuzha-based social worker K Jagadeesan, the constituency is witnessing a heated contest with Venugopal and Ariff, who have a good track record of fighting each other.

“The CPI (M) resistance to it is understandable. The anti-incumbency factors prevailing in the state against the LDF will be reflected in the Lok Sabha election. Also, there is a prevailing trend in Kerala to choose Congress and UDF for Lok Sabha rather than experimenting with LDF candidates. So, the left is fearing an existential crisis in Kerala,” he said.

In 2019, Ariff secured 4,45,970 votes, defeating Shanimol Osman of the Congress by a margin of 10,474 votes in Alappuzha. BJP candidate KS Radhakrishnan, who finished third in the polls, bagged 1,87,729 votes.

Earlier, in 2014, Venugopal defeated CB Chandrababu of the LDF by 19,407 votes and NDA candidate AV Thamarakshan received only 43,051 votes (4.3 percent of the total votes polled).

In 2009, Venugopal won with a majority of 57,635 votes, defeating CPI(M)’s Dr KS Manoj, Sony J Kalyan Kumar of the BJP polled 19,711 votes.

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The BJP candidate

The BJP has fielded its firebrand woman leader, Sobha Surendran, in the constituency, and she has already made her presence known by engaging in passionate corner meetings and scathing attacks on the rivals.

BJP Candidate Sobha Surendran.

BJP candidate Sobha Surendran.

The gradual growth and impact of the BJP on the election outcome are keenly debated in Alappuzha this time. With a high-power campaign of ‘Modi’s Guarantee’ and ‘Modi’s return to power’, it is hotly debated how the candidature of a heavyweight like Sobha would influence the elections.

Not many expect her to win the elections, but she is powerful enough to upset Venugopal’s apple cart.

The Christian voters will likely favour Venugopal, while Ariff will have a substantial stake in the Muslim votes. The Hindu votes may get split among the three candidates.

If a ‘Modi wave’ allows Sobha to secure more Hindu votes and garner some Christian votes under the influence of some new faces from the community in the BJP, Venugopal will have a tough time.

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Task on hand: Gaining the votes

However, the suspected uneasy equation Sobha has with BJP leaders like party’s state chief K Surendran and Union Minister of State V Muraleedharan, is bearing on the election campaign, and her ability to consolidate votes in her favour is also being keenly watched.

Venugopal with Rahul Gandhi

Venugopal with Rahul Gandhi

The thinking within the Congress party is that it may lose a couple of the 15 seats it holds now. So, the strategy is to capture Alappuzha, now held by CPI(M) and Kottayam held by Thomas Chazhikadan of LDF ally KC-M, and make up for the expected losses.

Venugopal, a native of Payyannur in Kannur, was elected to the Assembly for the first time in 1996 at the age of 33 from Alappuzha. He was then the state president of the Youth Congress.

He won two more Assembly polls from Alappuzha in 2001 and 2006. In 2004, he became minister for tourism and the devaswom (Temple) board in the first Oommen Chandy government.

In 2009, Venugopal, as an Opposition MLA, contested to the Lok Sabha from Alappuzha and won by a huge margin.

He repeated his victory in 2014, and during his tenure, he also served as a Union minister of state in the UPA government, handling the portfolios of power and civil aviation.