Thrikkakara bypoll deals a blow to CPI(M), K-Rail project; boosts a flailing Congress

The Congress’s nominee Uma Thomas, wife of late party legislator PT Thomas, won Thrikkakara seat, which her husband had represented since 2016, defeating the CPI(M)’s candidate Dr Jo Joseph by over 25,000 votes.

Uma’s victory margin is the highest-ever since the formation of the Thrikkakara constituency in 2011. Her late husband had won the seat, a traditional Congress stronghold, with a margin of 14,300 votes in the 2021 Assembly polls.

By fielding cardiologist Dr Joseph for the Thrikkkakara bypoll and seeking to wrest the seat from the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), the LDF was seeking to increase its tally to 100 in the 140-member state assembly.

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In Kerala, by-elections are generally won by the ruling front. However, Thrikkakara, an urban constitueny, has bucked the trend this time.

Both the CPI(M) and the Opposition BJP have attributed the Congress’s victory in the constituency to the “sympathy factor” for its nominee whose husband’s demise had necessitated the bypoll. However, it seems other factors also might have been at play.

A comparison of votes polled by the three principal parties in the constituency show that the exit of Twenty20, a party promoted by KITEX Garments, from the fray has benefited the Congress. In the 2021 Assembly elections, Twenty20 had got 13,800 votes and the victory margin of then Congress candidate Thomas was 14,300. In the by-election, Twenty20, after floating the People’s Alliance Welfare with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), decided not to field any candidate, calling instead for a “conscience vote”.

In terms of vote share, the Congress had only 43.82 per cent of polled votes in 2021. This grew to 53.76 per cent in the by-election. On the other hand, the CPI(M) got 33.32 per cent of polled votes in 2021, which rose to 35.28 per cent now. The BJP’s vote share slipped from 11.34 per cent in 2021 to 9.57 per cent in the by-election.

The CPI(M) hoped the constituency’s urban voters, comprising of a large chunk of professionals and middle-class people, would support its pro-development agenda that the party has been pushing since it came to power for a second consecutive term in May last year.

At the heart of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s pro-development agenda has been the proposed semi-high speed rail corridor or K-Rail projectalso known as SilverLine.

As SilverLine would pass through Thrikkakara, which has been envisaged as a mobility hub of Kochi, all political parties, including the CPI(M), sought to project the bypoll, in their campaigns, as a referendum on the project.

The Congress candidate’s victory would be now construed by the CPI(M)’s critics as a public vote of no-confidence against SilverLine, which would further fuel the Opposition parties’ campaign against the project that Vijayan is bent on pushing.

Making electoral inroads in Ernakulam district, a Congress bastion, has always been an uphill task for the CPI(M). In the Thrikkara bypoll, the Marxist party resorted to using its playbook’s old tactic of launching professionals from the Christian community into poll frays to advance the prospects of the arch rival Congress, for whom the community is a mainstay of its support base in the state.

People wait in a queue to cast their votes for Thrikkakara Assembly bypoll, in Kochi, Tuesday, May 31, 2022. (PTI Photo)

The CPI(M) named Dr Joseph for the Thrikkakara fray even after kickstarting the campaign for another party leader, Arun Kumar. However, this did not work for the CPI(M) even after Congress dissident KV Thomas joined hands with it.

The bypoll outcome has given a shot in the arm to the Congress as its traditional Christian and Muslim vote base seems to have remained intact in Thrikkakara even though the CPI(M) made an aggressive bid to woo the minorities. During the campaign, the focus of all the contenders had been on the minority votes, especially the Christian community, which makes up 29 per cent of the constituency’s electorate. Muslims form 21 per cent of its electorate.

Another factor that worked in the Congress’s favor was the rallying of “secular votes” behind the party thanks to late Thomas’ known secular credentials.

On the other hand, the CPI(M) sought to project Dr Joseph as a candidate of the Catholic Church, introducing him to the media in the premises of a Church-run institution.

The CPI(M) also drew flak for joining hands with terror-accused Abdul Nazer Madhani’s People’s Democratic Party, with the Congress targeting the former for allegedly wooing communal elements to win the bypoll.

The Congress put up a united front in the bypoll, not allowing KV Thomas’s rebellion and the exit of some leaders to affect its prospects.

The victory was also a “do-or-die battle” for the state Congress, led by Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan and state unit chief K Sudhakaran. The duo ensured that the traditional Christian votes remained with the Congress despite the retirement of senior leaders, such as AK Antony and Oommen Chandy, and the exit of several other Christian faces from the party. They seem to have thus consolidated their position in the party.

The by-election win could also help the Congress to keep the UDF flock together. Its key ally, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), had been getting restive over the Congress’s slide earlier.

The bypoll outcome dealt another setback to the BJP, which made a bid to garner the Christian votes. However, its candidate and senior party leader AN Radhakrishnan could get only 12,957 votes in the bypoll as against 15218 votes the party had secured in the 2021 elections.

The BJP sought to tap into Kerala’s communal fault lines. It got a pro-Sangh Parivar Christian outfit, which is alleged to spread Islamophobia, to campaign for Radhakrishnan.The saffron party defended controversial politician PC George over his alleged hate speeches delivered during the campaign. It also alleged that George’s arrest over hate speeches was meant only to “appease” Muslims. However, its campaign, in the final analysis, came a cropper.


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