LS polls 2024: Congs last-minute changes and its political impact in Kerala

The UDF won 19 out of 20 seats in Kerala in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Photo: X screengrab

LS polls 2024: Cong's last-minute changes and its political impact in Kerala

The campaign narrative has transitioned from the anti-incumbency factor to the ‘BJP connections’ of both the UDF and LDF

A series of unexpected developments, including PadmajaVenugopal's defection to the BJP, has forced the Congress to make some last-minute adjustments while finalising the list of Lok Sabha candidates from Kerala.

K Muraleedharan, Padmaja’s brother and the incumbent MP from Vadakara, had already begun campaigning in his constituency when he was reassigned to Thrissur. Shafi Parambil, the current MLA from Palakkad, has been named the candidate for Vadakara. AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, who chose not to contest in 2019 in order to lead the Congress’ campaign, has returned to the electoral arena in Alappuzha.

Sudhakaran was not keen

In fact, the Congress had no intention of altering the sitting MPs' seats, barring Kannur, where KPCC chief Sudhakaran was initially disinterested in contesting for various reasons. However, when the CPI(M) announced its district secretary and former MLA MV Jayarajan as the candidate from Kannur, finding a replacement for Sudhakaran became a difficult decision for the Congress. Consequently, the party had to persuade Sudhakaran to contest in order to ensure a competitive edge in the constituency.

Conversely, in Alappuzha, the only seat the party lost in the previous election, KC Venugopal's candidacy was deemed necessary, even though he was initially hesitant. AICC sources suggested that Venugopal, a Rajya Sabha member, expressed his reluctance to contest in this election and had conveyed this decision to Rahul Gandhi. However, Mallikarjun Kharge and several other senior party leaders insisted that Venugopal should contest, ultimately leading him to yield to the pressure.

Congress’ Muslim candidate

Rahul Gandhi had consistently stated that if he were to contest from a southern seat, it would be Wayanad. Speculation that he might relinquish the seat due to Annie Raja's candidacy and pressure from the Left was swiftly refuted by Rahul's office soon after it surfaced. The circumstances left the party unable to field a Muslim candidate, as this demographic was notably not represented in their list of candidates. Padmaja’s defection, however, led to Muraleedharan's relocation to Thrissur. This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for the party as it provided the opportunity to include Shafi Parambil, a Muslim candidate, in their lineup.

Initially, Shafi, a three-time MLA from Palakkad, was also hesitant to contest, particularly since he would be facing off against the most popular candidate from the LDF, former health minister KK Shailaja. Despite the fact that Congress has held the constituency for the past three general elections, the formidable competition posed a challenge for Shafi. Finally, he too has accepted the decision made by the central election committee.

Candidate choices spark contoversy

The candidacies of KC Venugopal and Shafi Parambil have sparked another controversy, with concerns raised that their potential victories could pave the way for the BJP to gain entry into both the Rajya Sabha and the state Assembly. Given Venugopal's current position as a member of the upper house from Rajasthan, he still has more than two years left in his tenure. However, if he wins from Alappuzha, he must relinquish his Rajya Sabha membership. Unfortunately, his party would be unable to fill this vacancy due to the lack of sufficient numbers in the Rajasthan state assembly and it would eventually help the BJP gain a majority in the upper house as well.

Likewise, if Shafi has to resign from the Palakkad assembly segment, the BJP may seize the opportunity to contest it. In the last Assembly elections, the BJP finished second in Palakkad with E Sreedharan as their candidate. Despite the district's substantial Left;'s vote base, the BJP has made inroads in Palakkad, pushing LDF candidates to the third position in the past two elections.

Political observers have begun raising red flags, questioning the rationale behind Venugopal and Shafi contesting in the Lok Sabha elections.

"In the 2019 election, even when there was speculation that Rahul Gandhi could become the Prime Minister, Venugopal opted out of contesting in order to coordinate the nationwide campaign for the party. Now, with few believing that the Congress will return to power or hold the PM post, the question arises: why is Venugopal contesting this time? Winning as many seats as possible cannot justify it, especially when there might be little difference between Venugopal and the CPM candidate AM Arif winning the Alappuzha seat since both of them are part of the INDIA bloc. So what is the rationale and who is behind this move which could result in the BJP gaining a majority in the upper house," wonders TJ Sreelal, a senior journalist.

Anti-Modi sentiment crucial factor

The CPI(M)-led LDF has already started highlighting the fact that the Congress is not only “supplying candidates” to the BJP but also facilitating the BJP's path through its selection of candidates. On the other hand, the Congress is accusing the CPI(M) of implicitly aligning with the BJP by attempting to eliminate Congress from the state.

Within a day, the political landscape in Kerala has undergone a significant transformation, with the campaign narrative transitioning from the anti-incumbency factor to the BJP connections of both the UDF and LDF.

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