Rahul’s surgical strike blows away Sabarimala from Kerala’s poll turf

With Rahul entering the poll fray from Wayanad, all parties have redrawn their strategies.

UPA prime ministerial candidate and Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s  decision to contest from the Wayand constituency in north Kerala has  turned out to be a game-changer in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls scheduled to be held in the third phase, on April 23. The Congress party’s ‘surgical strike’ in the state, where UPA’s potential ally at the Centre, the Left Democratic Front (LDF), has been aspiring to garner the maximum number of seats to keep alive its relevance in a post- poll ‘hung-parliament scenario.’ So far, the focus of the election campaign of all political fronts in Kerala has been the Supreme Court verdict on the entry of women to the Sabarimala hill shrine and the aggressive posturing of the Kerala’s LDF government. But with Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayand, the poll narrative is seeing a change.

If Rahul’s landing triggered a tremor in the highly polarised state, its after-effects have unsettled political opponents – the United Democratic Front (of which Congress is part), the LDF, and the NDA have swiftly redrawn their strategies to surmount the challenge. Almost everyone, including those belonging to the LDF, seems to be convinced of the impact of the Sabarimala agitation led by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar and the state government’s aggressive posture against it.

Non-issue now?

Both the LDF and NDA could mobilise huge crowds in a show of strength in two events respectively – the ‘Ayyappa Jyothi’ and the ‘Women’s wall.’ But all these suddenly seem to have lost significance, at least in north Kerala. However, Rahul, who had taken a more liberal stance on the Sabarimala issue, may have to do a bit of explaining in the state. This is especially so since the state Congress had vouched to stay truthful to the ‘faithful.’

Left dilemma

The Left parties have decided not to concede the seat without a fight though they would have to support Rahul after the polls. So far, as usual, the CPM had no much interest in the seat as it was being contested by LDF ally CPI. But now, the CPM has chalked out a plan to mobilise at least one lakh votes, using the 20,000 strong party members in the constituency besides its traditional supporters. The decision was taken at a meeting attended by CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. In the last Lok sabha polls, MI Shanwas of the Congress could secure a majority of only 20,670 votes. CPI State secretary Kanam Rajendran had made it clear that they had not asked Rahul Gandhi or the Congress to contest from Wayanad.

“No leader who is undefeatable to the LDF is contesting in the state” he said. The main allegation being raised against Rahul Gandhi is that he abandoned the politics of fighting against the  BJP. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has already said that the voters in Wayand would ask Rahul whether he would still support the Kasthrui Rangan report  which would  force the settler communities to abandon their land and move out. CPM politburo members, including general secretary Sitaram Yechuri, are in Wayanad to lead the campaign of LDF candidate PP Suneer. This is in contrast to the CPM, in alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, carrying Rahul Gandhi posters to canvass votes in the Nilgiris.

The  Congress is likely to highlight Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks that Rahul Gandhi chose to contest from Wayanad as the Congress was ‘scared’ that Hindus would punish them for ‘Hindu terror’ remarks. “There is a feeling among the people of south India that their culture and history are being attacked by the Modij government. My decision to contest from here is to send out a message to the people of south India that the entire India is one,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters during a roadshow.

“The Left parties are fighting me. They have the freedom to criticise me. But I will not utter a single word against the Left,” he said before boarding a helicopter from Kalpatta after filing his nomination papers, on Thursday.

Congress general secretary (organization) KC Venugopal said Prime Minister Modi should apologise to the people of Wayanad for his ‘most condemnable and divisive’ statement on the candidature of Rahul Gandhi. “The UDF is trying to depict the fight by Rahul Gandhi as an attempt to bring alive the national spirit. His contest from Wayand reflects the composite culture of various communities and religions which thrive and live together. Moreover, Wayanad is the land of the ‘Lion of Kerala,’ Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, who had fought against the British,” he said. “The Prime Minister was not only disrespecting the people of Wayanad but insulting the freedom movement,” he said.