Kerala elections: Will Rahul, his scuba diving skills translate into votes?

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's recent scuba diving skills impressed Keralites, who have a special affection for him. But will this translate into votes in the upcoming Assembly elections, as the ruling LDF seems to be on a strong wicket

On Sunday, it was Home Minister Amit Shah's turn to attack Congress MP Rahul Gandhi for demanding a fisheries ministry at an election rally in Puducherry, which will go to polls on April 6

Rahul Gandhi’s expertise in scuba diving has been the talk of the town in Kerala. His venture into the deep sea with YouTube channel ‘Fishing Freaks’ has been happily lapped up by social media. The 23-minute video released by Sebin Syriac, the vlogger who runs the popular channel ‘Fishing Freaks,’ has gone viral with 7.2 lakh viewers.

Rahul’s unexpected dive into the sea, while sailing with the fishermen on a boat, along with the ‘Fishing Freaks’ crew, took everyone by surprise. On the boat, Rahul shared information with vlogger Syriac about his scuba diving skills and how ‘he wanted to know how these people did this.’

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is rarely sarcastic, expressed ‘gratitude for Rahul’s love for Kerala.’ “Grateful to him for driving the tractor for farmers and swimming in the sea for fish workers,” he said. The CM’s one-liner jibe against Rahul too has spread like wildfire on social media with ‘explainers’ by Left handles, on how Congress and UPA have deceived fish workers in policy matters. However, even political observers who are sympathetic to the Left do not dismiss Rahul’s pivotal role in Kerala politics.

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“We cannot certainly ignore Rahul’s presence in Kerala. The people of Kerala are affectionate towards him, more than what the UDF feels for him,” said Dr Premkumar, a political commentator who favours the Left. “But this love for Rahul does not necessarily have to translate into votes in favour of UDF in the upcoming Assembly election,” he added. Many other political observers tended to agree with this view as Kerala voters have different voting strategies for the Assembly and Parliament polls.

Also read: When Puducherry CM lied: Mistranslates fisherwoman’s complaint to Rahul Gandhi

The 2019 Lok Sabha election is clearly the best example. The UDF made a clean sweep in Kerala, winning 19 out of 20 seats despite the popularity of the ruling LDF government with their pro-people policies and actions. Rahul’s candidature in Wayanad had been a gamechanger and people had voted for a change in the Centre.

As far as Kerala is concerned, however, the voters have a different set of parameters. This has been evident in the many elections held over the past couple of decades. The voters generally prefer Congress when it comes to Parliament elections, irrespective of the internal politics within the State. UDF won 15 out of 20 seats in 2009 Lok Sabha elections, even while LDF was in power. UDF maintained the same tally in the 2010 local body election too. However, LDF lost the next Assembly election by a slender margin of two seats only.

Again in 2014 Lok Sabha election, UDF maintained its dominance by winning 12 seats. On the other hand, LDF got voted back to power in the State in 2016, with 91 seats out of 140. The performance of the Government in handling highly critical situations such as the Nipah outbreak and two consecutive floods has been widely appreciated by the people. Still, LDF had to face an embarrassing debacle in 2019. The votes that went in favour of Congress in the 2019 Parliament election, however did not matter in the local body elections in 2020, with LDF scoring a substantial victory.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi speaks exclusively to The Federal

T.K. Vinodan, a columnist and political commentator, blamed the loyalists of the Left for the personal attack against Rahul Gandhi on social media. “Rahul Gandhi is one of the leaders who Keralites love. People are fond of him for his intellect and style. We may criticise him for his political stance but the personal attack and sarcastic comments against him will only backfire,” said Vinodan. He believed that the hate campaign against Rahul may play a role in turning the tide in favour of the Congress, like it did in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. “The comrades in cyberspace should learn a lesson from past experiences,” pointed out Vinodan.

It remains to be seen how far the ‘Rahul effect’ will work this time. As Kerala voters have a different set of parameters for Assembly and another for Parliamentary elections, it is doubtful whether Rahul will make a significant impact this time. “He could not even raise any valid criticism against the LDF government. He highlighted the controversies over gold smuggling in his campaign. That issue does not exist anymore,” said Dr Premkumar.

“Rahul Gandhi’s scuba diving skills will not be sufficient enough to swim against the political tide. He has to raise legitimate political issues and to present an alternative to the ruling Government which has accomplished almost 90 per cent of the promises in their election manifesto of 2016,” he added.

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