The ruling Left Democratic Front's defeat in the three Assembly by-elections in Kerala was not entirely unexpected but the failure of the zealous bid by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to snatch at least one seat has left the rank and file demoralised.
The by-elections were necessitated by the resignation of three Congress legislators following their election to the Lok Sabha this year.
The CPI-M attached great importance to the by-elections. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who was demoted from the Politburo as a disciplinary measure, was made the chief campaigner to benefit from the popular support which he still enjoys.
Both Achuthanandan and party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan declared that the by-election results would be a verdict on the LDF government. It was an act of political daredevilry, considering that the seats were held by the Congress.
Kannur district is a CPI-M fortress. As the home district of Pinarayi Vijayan and his chief lieutenants it now has greater clout than before. However, Kannur city has been out of its hands since long. The Congress flung a direct challenge to the CPI-M by fielding AP Abdullakutty, whom it had expelled, there.
The CPI-M has backed several Congress defectors in the past but this was the first time an ex-Marxist was fighting an election on the Congress ticket. It deputed MV Jayarajan, a close aide of Pinarayi Vijayan, to take on Abdullakutty.
Determined to snatch Kannur at any cost, the CPI-M enrolled a large number of its supporters from neighbouring areas as voters in that constituency in advance of the by-election. Some of them gave buildings under the party's control as place of residence. Some others used non-existent addresses.
A quick review of the electoral rolls ordered by the Election Commission, at the instance of the Congress, resulted in the removal of a few thousand fake voters.
Taking note of the partisanship of sections of state government employees, the Commission drafted a large number of Central government officials and Central police personnel for election duty in the state.
CPI-M leaders raised a ruckus alleging the Election Commission had sent the army at the behest of the Congress. The chief minister drew loud applause by declaring at public meetings that the state government would confine the troops to the barracks. However, the Commission saw to it that Central police personnel were deployed inside polling stations.
Apparently the CPI-M strategy was to enroll enough new voters in Kannur to neutralise the Congress's winning margin of 8,613 in 2006. But the Congress won the seat by an increased margin of 12,043 votes.
At Ernakulam, the CPI-M candidate, PN Sinulal, was defeated by Dominic Presentation of the Congress by a margin of 8,620 votes. In 2006 the Congress had won by a margin of only 5,800 votes.
The only LDF candidate to buck the trend was G Krishna Prasad of the CPI, who, while losing to AA Shukoor at Alappuzha, reduced the Congress party's winning margin from 16,933 in 2006 to 4,745 this time.
The CPI's performance is noteworthy as it did not have the support of Abdul Naser Mahdani's People's Democratic Party, which had backed the CPI-M at Kannur and Ernakulam.
As soon as the results became known, the CPI-M said it had fared better than in 2006. The claim was based on a small increase in the number of votes polled by its candidates in Kannur and Ernakulam.
It was a ludicrous claim. The small increase has to be seen in the context of the growth of the electorate and the increased polling percentage. Actually the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party had made greater gains than the CPI-M.
Subsequently the party modified the claim slightly. It said the voting figures showed the party still retained the popular support it had when it was swept to power in 2006.
The CPI-M had made inroads in Kannur and Ernakulam in the past by fielding candidates belonging to minority communities. It tried a new tack this time, presumably in the light of the experience of the Lok Sabha elections. But it does not seem to have helped.
Some observers believe the CPI's improved performance in Alappuzha was the result of a pro-LDF swing by the Nair Service Society, which has been critical of the Congress for allegedly neglecting the Nair community's interests.--Gulf Today, November 16, 2009