The by-election for the Aruvikkara assembly seat is turning out to be one of the most fiercely-contested electoral battles in Kerala in recent memory, with local body polls scheduled for October and assembly elections coming up less than a year from now. The by-poll was precipitated by the death of former Kerala speaker G Karthikeyan.
This is the 40th by-election after the state’s formation and the third during the tenure of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) government. The UDF alliance won handsomely in the last two elections in Piravom and Neyyantinkara.
However, this time the UDF, whose image has been dented by the bar bribery case and solar scam, is on a sticky wicket.
The by-election will be held on June 27 and the results announced on June 30. The Congress candidate for Aruvikkara is G Karthikeyan’s son KS Sabarinadhan, a former senior manager with Tata Trust. Kerala has a history of favouring blood relations in by-elections that have been held due to the impromptu death of a leader.
G Karthikeyan, ironically, was part of the group consisting of Kerala home minister Ramesh Chennithala and Wayanad MP MI Shanavas that rebelled against late chief minister K Karunakaran’s efforts to bring his son K Muraleedharan into the party leadership.
“The decision to field Sabarinadhan is a clear indication of Congress’s bid to cash in on a sympathy wave. First, they tried to convince Karthikeyan’s wife and when she refused, they brought in his son. Such a move would not have happened under normal circumstances,” said George Pulikkan, a senior journalist.
The veteran CPI-M leader is under a lot of pressure, as his party has not been able to win a major election since 2006 (Taken from M Vijayakumar's official Facebook page)
The opposition CPI-M has fielded former speaker M Vijayakumar for the by-poll. Vijayakumar earlier defeated Karthikeyan in 1987 in Thiruvananthapuram North assembly constituency. The BJP’s decision to field O Rajagopal has made it a decidely triangular contest. A former vice-president of the party and a member of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet, Rajagopal unsuccessfully contested more than nine elections from different parts of Kerala.
Despite his lack of success, Rajagopal was instrumental in increasing the BJP’s vote share in Thiruvananthapuram. In the last parliamentary election, he managed to lead in 60 of the 100 wards in Thiruvananthapuram corporation and for the first time pushed the LDF’s candidate to the third position.
“There is a clear split in anti-incumbency votes with the entry of Rajagopal and this has the potential to push one of the two principal parties to the third position,” said KM Sajad Ibrahim, state coordinator of the Lokniti network and associate professor at the department of political science in University of Kerala.
The stakes are high for all three parties. For chief minister Oommen Chandy, a defeat in Aruvikkara, which has been a Congress bastion for the past 24 years, will be a setback he cannot afford. Chandy, who has been aggressively campaigning for the past one-and-half weeks, has gone to the extent of declaring the by-polls a referendum on his government.
The BJP's candidate, and a former member of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet, Rajagopal is hoping to break his unlucky streak of unsuccessfully contesting 9 Kerala elections (Taken from O Rajagopal's official Facebook page)
For the CPI-M, this is the first election after Kodiyeri Balakrishnan took over as the new state secretary. It is also the first polls under the direct supervision of Pinarayi Vijayan, tipped to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the 2016 assembly elections.
The campaign on the ground, however, is being led by former chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who has been addressing public meetings for the past four days. With the party losing its grip in West Bengal, a by-election victory in Kerala could be a huge morale booster.
“The CPI-M has not won a single major election after the Thiruvambadi by-poll in 2006. It is a do or die situation for them. A defeat in Aruvikkara, in spite of so many allegations against the ruling combine, will further scuttle their chances in the upcoming local body elections just five months away,” said political analyst A Jayashankar.
In the BJP’s case, a victory in Aruvikkara will finally mark the party's presence in Kerala’s electoral landscape. In spite of having a large number of RSS cadres in the state, the BJP has yet to make a dent in the assembly.