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Analysis: The Left seeks to connect with the faithful, minorities in Kerala

Left Democratic Front leaders, workers take out a victory rally following the party’s victory in the Pala by-election, in Kannur, Kerala. File

Left Democratic Front leaders, workers take out a victory rally following the party’s victory in the Pala by-election, in Kannur, Kerala. File   | Photo Credit: S.K. Mohan

Fields top leaders to campaign at grassroots

For the Left, wresting the Pala Assembly seat in last month’s by-election from the Kerala Congress, which had held it as an impenetrable citadel for over five decades, marked a watershed in electoral fortunes in central Kerala.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) had been routed in the Lok Sabha polls a few months ago and the Pala victory provided it a breather. But it knows only too well that there’s hardly any reason for complacency given that infighting within the Kerala Congress (M) was critical in swinging the outcome in Pala.

Winning dividends

The win wasn’t without dividends, though. Roughly about 52% of voters in Pala are from the otherwise minority Christian community — a strong constituency of the Kerala Congress and the United Democratic Front (UDF). The verdict is, therefore, being read in the Left camp as an endorsement of its political position by the minorities. Not only did it succeed in overcoming the setback in the Lok Sabha polls in which it trailed in the Pala Assembly segment by about 30,000 votes, it was able to retain its share of votes in the 2016 Assembly polls where, as the UDF and the National Democratic Front (NDF) suffered an erosion in their vote share.

Be this as it may, that alone will not be enough to see it through in the five segments — Vattiyoorkkavu, Konni, Aroor, Ernakulam and Manjeswaram located in south, central and north Kerala — going to by-polls on October 21, as community composition of the electorate and traditional voting preferences vary in each. Barring Aroor, the only sitting seat of the LDF in these five, the rest are all with the UDF. Even in Aroor, sitting MLA, Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) A.M. Ariff had a scare in the Lok Sabha polls when he conceded a lead of around 600 votes to Congress’s Shanimol Usman in the Aroor Assembly segment. It was a seat where he had secured a majority of over 38,000 votes in 2016. Now, the Congress has fielded Ms. Usman to take on CPI(M)’s debutant Manu Pulickal in Aroor.

Left’s stronghold

Aroor, considered to be a stronghold of the Left, has a majority of voters from the Ezhava community. The Left is pinning its hopes on them, especially in view of the ambivalent stance taken by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) and the severely strained relations between National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituents the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), comprising Ezhava members, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP came close to tasting success in the 2016 Assembly polls at Vattiyoorkkavu and Manjeswaram, where upper caste votes are decisive. In the Lok Sabha election, BJP candidate K. Surendran gave both the rival fronts a run for their money in the Konni Assembly segment by narrowing the gap with the winner by just about 3,000 votes. The party is trying to punch above its weight in these constituencies by seeking a consolidation of majority votes around the issue of “faith” that characterised the hustings during the Lok Sabha elections.

‘A non-issue’

The Left front, however, believes that “faith” is a non-issue in the by-polls. “Our political opponents were able to misrepresent us on the issue and further, people voted for change in the Lok Sabha,” reckons CPI(M) State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Though the “right distance” stance of the Nair Service Society (NSS) and its criticism of the government turning its back on the faithful have come as a disappointment for the Left, the CPI(M) and the CPI have been guarded in their responses, choosing not to ruffle any feathers on the question.

It was a Constitutional obligation for the government to implement the Supreme Court order. That apart, the Left did nothing to push the entry of women of all age groups to Sabarimala, they maintain. In order to drive home the point, added emphasis is being placed on neighbourhood meetings in which senior leaders explain the Left’s stance on various issues. They also highlight the way the government tackled various crises, from Nipah to the floods.

To supervise

The CPI(M) has deployed State secretariat members to supervise electioneering in each of the five constituencies. Anathalavattom Anandan and A.K. Balan are overseeing campaigning in Vattiyookkavu, K.J. Thomas and K.N. Balagopal in Konni, T.M. Thomas Issac and M.V. Govindan in Aroor, P. Rajeev and central committee member K. Radhakrishnan are in Ernakulam, and P.K. Sreemathy and P. Karunakaran are supervising it in Manjeswaram. That apart, Ministers have been made in-charge of each constituency. At least four to six state committee members are stationed in each of the constituencies to organise campaigning at the grassroots level.

The front aims to leverage the internal skirmishes within the Congress in Konni, the popularity of its candidate in Vattiyoorkkavu and what it says is a communally polarising campaign by the Muslim League, part of the UDF, and the BJP in Manjeswaram.

Edge among young

A “professional” study conducted by the CPI(M) in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections in the State found that the party and the front still had an edge among voters in the 18-25 years age group. “But the task is to rope in the middle class, which is what we are working on,” says a leader.

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 12:29:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/analysis-the-left-seeks-to-connect-with-the-faithful-minorities-in-kerala/article29715590.ece

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