The bypoll to the Thrikkakara Assembly constituency in Ernakulam district on May 31 is inconsequential in terms of its impact on the numerical strength of the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF or the Congress-led UDF in the Kerala Assembly. The LDF is just a seat short of 100 against the UDF’s 41 legislators in the 140-member assembly. But the all-out campaign by both of them in Thrikkakara points to what is at stake.
Having won a re-election a year ago, the LDF government led by Pinarayi Vijayan views the byelection as an appraisal of its large-scale infrastructure push, especially the SilverLine semi-high speed rail network, which has faced resistance from environmentalists, technocrats, the Opposition and the people likely to be displaced by the standalone rail corridor. In line with the new development paradigm for Kerala unveiled by Mr. Vijayan at his party’s State conference two months ago, the government has made no bones about its intent to undertake ‘growth-oriented’ high-value development projects alongside the welfare initiatives for which it won applause in the first term.
But Thrikkakara has a record of only electing Congress representatives since the formation of the constituency in 2011. The party has fielded Uma, the wife of its popular late legislator from the constituency P.T. Thomas, to retain the seat. Wresting it would, therefore, bolster the government’s push for reforms. It is unsurprising that the LDF campaign is being spearheaded by Mr. Vijayan and the alliance’s ministers and legislators are going door to door seeking votes. The LDF candidate is Jo Joseph, a medical doctor, who has been fielded with an eye on the constituency’s ‘apolitical’ votes. That the corporate-backed Twenty20 Party, which garnered over 13,000 votes in Thrikkakara in the 2021 Assembly elections, has chosen to abstain from contesting, has kindled their hopes.
For the Congress, at its nadir electorally, it’s a do-or-die battle. It is pinning its hopes on the political clout of its late legislator but isn’t leaving anything to chance. The government’s recent decision to choose the geo-tagging route instead of the physical stone-laying one to mark the alignment of the controversial rail project has been deemed by the Opposition as an initial victory of its campaign. The Congress is trying to capitalise on this. But the party is facing troubles in terms of infighting and the exodus of senior leaders in Ernakulam to the Left camp. Interestingly, it is also hoping to benefit from the absence of Twenty20 in the fray.
The Kitex company, which sponsors Twenty20, has been at loggerheads with both the CPI(M) and the Congress over allegations of the company’s garment unit polluting a nearby river. The party, which enjoys power in a few panchayats and wields some clout in the region, has now entered into an alliance with the Aam Admi Party, which is trying to reinvent itself in Kerala. It has decided not to favour any side but the fact is that the conglomerate doesn’t have a captive vote base in the constituency. But given the criticality of the ‘apolitical’ votes they can sway, both leading fronts are going soft on the new entity.
This apart, the Catholic church is at the centre of electioneering with the UDF accusing the Left candidate of being a nominee of a Church leader and the Left making statements against ‘needlessly dragging’ religious institutions for politicking. The late Congress legislator was persona non grata for the church, but the church has now taken an equidistant stance officially. Also trying to woo the Christian voters is the BJP-led NDA, pandering to some church leaders’ unyielding Islamophobic positions.
The leading fronts have put all their stakes on the bypoll, hoping to reap political dividends from it. It is only natural that Thrikkakara permeates all discussions in Kerala now.