High stakes in Ernakulam bypoll

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 21. Rarely has a by-election evoked so much interest in Kerala and outside as the Ernakulam by-poll is doing now. It is because of the high stakes placed on its outcome by everyone from the AICC (I) leadership in New Delhi down to the grassroots-level workers of various political parties in Kerala.

The three serious candidates in the fray are being backed by four major players and all of them are pinning a lot of hope and making a lot of plans on the poll result.

The prominent players are the Kerala Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, and his senior colleague in the party, K. Karunakaran. The outcome of the election is a matter of life and death politically to both. Since Mr. Antony has virtually snatched the constituency from the "I'' group whose pocket borough it is by prevailing upon the high command to approve his candidate, M.O. John, the onus of getting him elected is fully on his shoulders. Realising it, Mr. Antony has been camping in the constituency and organising a high voltage campaign during the last few days. The sections other than the "I'' group in the Pradesh Congress are confident that the Antony factor and the presence of a large number of national leaders of the party in the constituency will ensure smooth sailing for Mr. John.

But if their calculations go awry, all hell is likely to be let loose in the State unit of the party by the "I'' group. As the election is generally being viewed as a mini referendum of the Antony Government's performance, the "I'' group will in all probability press for a change of leadership if something goes wrong.

Changes are likely if Mr. Antony's calculations turn right too. It will lead to the negation or at any rate neutralisation of the Karunkaran factor in the Congress. What his group will do in such a situation remains to be seen.

Mr. Karunakaran has been harping on a deal with the CPI(M). Will he finally take the plunge and if he does will his followers brought up on anti-Communist ideology accept it are the questions.

The BJP is the third player which is attaching a lot of importance to the outcome of the election. Even though it is a presence to be reckoned with at the local body level in Kerala, its bid, at times feverish, to get into Parliament from the State and the Assembly has not borne any fruit so far. Its concerted efforts to attract any one of the constituents of the UDF or the LDF to it and ride piggy back on its shoulders such as the Congress or the CPI(M) have done in the past have also not succeeded.

It has, however, succeeded in roping in P.C. Thomas of the IFDP this time. Those who know the history of the Congress and the Kerala Congress point out the emotional significance of the Thomas factor. It is the impression that the then Chief Minister, R. Sankar, was out to get Mr. Thomas' father, P.T. Chacko, who was the Home Minister and number two man in the State unit of the party which led to the toppling of the Ministry and the creation of the Kerala Congress by a group of young MLAs who were his admirers. The BJP is using Mr. Thomas as a bridge to link it to the Congress and the Kerala Congress of which there are at least half a dozen varieties now. At least two of them are headed by the founders of the original Kerala Congress. The BJP considers the Ernakulam bypoll in which it is backing the former CPI(M) leader, V. Viswanatha Menon, as a good opportunity for getting a toe-hold in the national electoral politics in Kerala. Any setback will force it to start from scratch all over again.

The CPI(M) is the only major player which is not unduly bothered about the outcome of the election as it stands to gain whichever way the dice falls. Ernakulam is not its stronghold. That is why it has supported the candidature of Sebastian Paul instead of fielding a true-blooded Communist as its candidate. If he fails to make the grade, the party can shrug it off and walk away just like that. If on the other hand he wins, it can join hands with Mr. Karunakaran to make life tough for Mr. Antony.

It will therefore be an understatement to say that the outcome of the Ernakulam bypolls will usher in sweeping changes in the politics of Kerala.

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