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BJP’s win in Tripura turns Chengannur bypoll in Kerala into high-stakes battle

The saffron party is claiming the by-election will be its launching pad in the southern state.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2018 19:45 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Chengannur (Alapuzha)
BY-election,Chengannur bypoll,Kerala
BJP workers busy writing graffiti on a wall ahead of upcoming by-election for Chengannur assembly constituency in Kerala. (Vivek R Nair/HT Photo)

Buoyed by its recent success in Tripura, the BJP has turned its focus on the upcoming by-election for Chengannur assembly constituency to launch its mission Kerala, while the ruling CPI(M) is putting all its might to prevent a saffron surge in the state, the last Left bastion.

The Congress, which of late ceded some opposition space to the BJP in the southern state, too is pulling out all the stops to regain the seat, giving an unprecedented political importance to the otherwise innocuous bypoll.

No by-election in the recent past generated as much political interest with all the three parties launching vigorous campaigns, declaring their candidates even before the poll date is announced.

The BJP is viewing it as an opportunity to announce its arrival in the state. Its leaders are claiming that Chengannur will be the launching pad for the party in the southern state.

For the CPI(M), it will be more than a referendum on its government. The party leaders, privately admit, a win for the BJP here could change the contour of state politics.

For the Congress also stake is high to retain its stronghold that slipped out of its kitty in the last assembly election.

The death of sitting MLA K K Ramachandran Nair two months ago necessitated the by-election, likely to be held in May.

The constituency had witnessed a fierce three-cornered contest in 2016 in which the CPI(M) candidate had won with a margin of over 7000 votes.

This time the left party has fielded Alappuzha district secretary Saji Cherian to take on senior BJP leader P S Sreedharan Pillai and Congress veteran S D Vijayakumar.

“For us Chengannur is the launching pad for the state. Situation is quite favourable for the party after our resounding victory in Tripura,” said BJP candidate Pillai.

He said after the humiliating defeat in Tripura, the CPI(M) is playing communal card to woo minority voters in a desperate bid to retain the seat.

The constituency has 20% Christian voters.

In 140-member Kerala assembly, the BJP has a lone member, O Rajagoplan, former Union minister of state for railways.

But the recent victory in the Left-ruled Tripura, where the BJP could not win a single seat in 2013 elections, charged up the party’s rank and file.

There are even talks that BJP president Amit Shah will campaign in Chengannur.

The party has also introduced many centrally-sponsored schemes in the constituency recently. Last week a passport seva kendra was opened.

But all is not well in the saffron camp. One of the NDA allies the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BJDS), which has a significant following among the district’s backward Ezhava community, is upset with the BJP.

There were talks that the BJP would get its leader Thushar Vellapally elected to Rajya Sabha from a state in north India. But there is no formal announcement yet in this regard.

Sulking Vellapally can be a threat to the BJP, and efforts are on to placate him.

CPI (M)’s Cherian said: “The RSS-BJP combine can’t enact Tripura in Kerala. It is a different ball game altogether.”

The state is “well equipped” to contain the saffron surge, he added addressing party workers.

The CPI(M) even claimed that the BJP is not even a contender as their contest will be with the Congress.

The Congress leaders too claim, their fight will be with the CPI(M).

“We are not worried about the three-cornered fight. We will expose both the Centre and state government’s anti—people policies. We have got a definite edge,” said state Congress president M M Hassan.

First Published: Mar 11, 2018 12:21 IST