Infighting led to Congress' crushing defeat in Kerala

Published on May 14, 2004 05:25 PM IST

A anti-incumbency wave and revulsion at the ugly infighting led to total rout of the Congress even as the party made handsome gains around the country.

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PTI | ByPress Trust of India, Thiruvananthapuram

A strident anti-incumbency wave and widespread revulsion at the ugly infighting led to total rout of the Congress in Kerala even as the party made handsome gains around the country.

For Chief Minister AK Antony, who has the misfortune of presiding over the 'historic' defeat of the ruling combine, it is going to be an uphill task to regain the lost ground and resist a possible realignment in the internal equations in the party.

Cashing in on the popular mood and mounting a systematic campaign, the CPI(M)-led LDF came out with flying colours winning 18 of the 20 seats, making the ruling front to be content with the sole seat won by Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Ponnani.

While the BJP's hopes of breaking the electoral jinx in the state were dashed, the NDA could open its account through the upset win of Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP) nominee PC Thomas in the Christian heartland of Muvvattupuzha.

In a state where the vote share difference between the rival fronts were mostly wafer thin, this time the LDF was polled 7.76 per cent more that the UDF.

While the LDF secured 46.125 per cent vote the UDF had to content with 38.363 per cent.

The BJP which received 8.1 per cent vote in 1999 increased its share to 10.38 and the NDA's voteshare, including IFDP, stood at 12.08.

This is for the first time that the Congress drew a blank in the state, which had in most Parliament elections favoured the party despite the LDF and UDF ruling the state alternately.

Adding insult to injury, the UDF defeat was complete when Electricity Minister K Muraleedharan lost the assembly by-poll in Wadakkanchery forcing his exit from the ministry he joined three months back as part of a patch-up scheme.

In a total reversal of 2001 assembly poll that swept the UDF to power with a record tally of 99 seats in the 140 member house, the current elections showed the ruling front slipping in 111 assembly segments.

The UDF rout was so comprehensive that the front could not hold on to any of the regions - north, south and central - reflecting serious erosion of support base among various communities including Christians and Muslims who used to back the Congress and allies mostly.

Large sections of Muslims are yet to reconcile with Antony's controversial remark that minorities in the state used their organised clout for collective bargaining and the Government's handling of the situation after the carnage at Marad where nine persons were killed.

The anti-UDF stance of peripheral outfits like People's Democratic Party and National Development Front (NDF) and Sunni Panditha Maha Sabha also dented the UDF's support base.

Some of the church denominations also did not conceal their displeasure at the Government's functioning especially over the educational policies of the Government.

The defeat of IUML candidate in Manjeri sends a clear signal the party could not take the community for granted even in the Muslim heartland.

The IUML is yet to recover from the severe shock it received following its defeat at Manjeri, where it had never lost since 1952.

Some of the statements made by senior leader K Karunakaran while the campaigning was on triggered sharp reaction from the Nair Service Society (NSS), which enjoys clout in the traditional Congress belt of south and central Kerala.

The Sree Narayana Dharma Parimpalana Yogam, the powerful organisation of the numerically strong Ezhava community, was also angry at alleged discrimination against the community interests over a host of issues.

Within the UDF itself, manoeuvres by minor partners like Kerala Congress Pillai and Jacob factions were also seen to have worked against front in some of the constituencies.

Transport Minister R Balakrishna Pillai had expressed strong reservation against the candidature of Kodikkunnil Suresh (Congress) in Adoor near his home turf Kottarakkara.

The splinter groups of Kerala Congress used their influence in Muvvattupuzha where the UDF nominee and son of Revenue Minister KM Mani (Kerala Congress-M) slipped to third position.

Widespread resentment in the rank and file of the party over surrender of as many as seven Congress seats to serve Karunakaran's interest is seen as a major factor that marred the Congress prospects.

The anger over the sacrifice of party interests at the alter of a 'single family' was eivdent throughout the state from the very beginning of the campaign making the UDF's work sluggish.

Several sections of the party hold the view that Antony also abjectly surrendered to Karunakaran thinking that keeping the senior leader in good humour would reinforce the party unity resulting in handsome returns at the hustings.

But both Karunakaran and Antony proved wrong in their calculations as people rejected the newly forged unity between the two leaders who had remained in the opposite poles of the Congress in the state for over three decades. There are also Congressmen who think that Antony's was a deft move to keep his position safe for remaining three years in power.

Political observers here feel the Congress in the state is going to be witness to a fresh bout of factional squabbles leading to a possible realignment against both Antony and Karunakaran.

The first salvo was already fired by former KPCC general secretaries Rajmohan Unnithan and Sarathchandra Prasad saying that Antony and Karunakaran were mainly responsible for the party's rout.

The CPI(M) put up a splendid performance winning 12 of the 13 seats its contested.

CPI which drew blank in 1999 corner three seats in the strong anti-UDF current.

The verdict broke the myth that the LDF is inherently constrained in making major inroads among the minority communities.

The victory margin of LDF winners in the Muslim and Christian strongholds crossed over 50,000.

Apart from the historic win in the League citadel Manjeri, in constituencies like Ernakulam, Thrissur, Mukundapuram, Kottayam, Idukki, the LDF candidates emerged victorious securing margins varying from 40,000 to one lakh.

In north Kerala, where Muslims form a decisive chunk, the UDF contestants were beaten soundly with their rivals emerging with winning margin of over 60,000 to 1.30 lakh votes.

The BJP could gain 2.28 lakh votes in Thiruvananthapuram and over one lakh in Kasargode and Palakkad, keeping up the trend of slowly increasing the vote share in every election.

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