Rahul's safe seat move unsettles potential ally, CPM
The Pradesh Congress Committees of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala had asked Rahul Gandhi to contest from the south to galvanise the party machinery in the region and electrify the poll scene for the erstwhile ruling party. His decision on Wayanad has certainly made UDF workers in Kerala jubilant.
The Wayanad District Congress Committee has welcomed the AICC decision to field Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad. “We have already launched the campaign for Rahulji,” said IC Balakrishnan, Wayanad DCC president. State Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran said it was a moment of pride for Kerala.
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was the first to give a hint about Rahul contesting from Wayand. Not to be left behind, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and Ramachandran welcomed the move. But the delay in clearing the name had led to confusion and concern. But that has cleared now.
Home to a large Muslim, Christian and tribal population, Wayanad may offer a safe seat for Rahul Gandhi who can now concentrate on campaigning elsewhere to bolster the party’s chances. But the move seems to have been made taking into account local calculations too. The Congress hopes Rahul’s presence can help the party disrupt the minority polarization strategy of the CPM that took a strong stand on Sabarimala.
Despite being the agrarian belt of the State with its coffee and tea plantations and pepper cultivation, Wayanad has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Wayanad, located east of Kozhikode in north Kerala and bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, is one of the largest pepper-growing districts in the country. Coffee is the other major crop cultivated here.
Poverty and hunger plagues tribal communities. Every year there are reports of starvation deaths among tribals. Farmers suicide has also been reported since 2014.
The major charge against the Congress was that its MPs or MLA s had never been able to bring development. “So far we have seen our MP passing through the road. Now onwards, we will have to see the MP flying by the helicopter,” said Sheeja, a journalist with the CPM mouthpiece Deshabhimani. Yet, the Congress finds Wayanad safe turf as the Thiruvambady and Ernad Assembly segments are considered a fortress of its ally, the Muslim League, which is offering full support to Rahul ‘s candidature.
Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency comprises seven Assembly constituencies spread over three districts. Mananthavady, Kalpatta and Sulthan Bethery in Wayanad,Thiruvambady in Kozhikode, and Nilambur, Vandoor and Eranad in the Malappuram district form the constituency. While nearly 40 per cent of the population is Muslim, 17 per cent is Christian. More than 10 per cent are tribals. Though the Congress leadership has been considering the seat as its pocketborough, during the 2004 Lok Sabha poll when the LDF won 18 out of 20 seats the Congress lost Wayanad.
In 2009, Congress candidate MI Shanavas won by a margin of 153,439 votes securing 410,703. Rahmathulla of the CPI secured 257,264 votes. In 2014, Shanavas managed to win but with a margin of little over 20,858 votes. Shanavas died in November 2018.
While in 2011 all the seven Assembly constituencies in the Lok Sabha seat elected UDF MLAs, in 2016 four out of seven elected LDF candidates. In 2014, PV Anwar secured 37,123 votes contesting as an Independent. In 2016 he became an LDF MLA . This time, he is contesting as a CPM candidate from Ponnani.
While the United Democratic Front (UDF) is in an upbeat mood over Rahul’s decision, the ruling LDF in the State is facing an embarrassing situation. The LDF has been having a tough time facing the electorate after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took a strong stand on the Sabarimala issue. As the BJP and Sangh Parivar forces placed themselves on the forefront of the agitation in the name of protecting faith, CPM and LDF toed the chief minister’s position.
Pinarayi’s stand was expected to polarize the minorities in favour of the CPM. But the Congress president’s decision to contest from here would help offset such polarization that would have harmed the Congress.
Meanwhile, the BJP leadership has been pointing fingers at the Congress and Left parties for fighting each other here and joining hands at New Delhi. There are posters of CPM candidates in Tamil Nadu projecting Rahul Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate.
Mahe, a small strip of land between Vatakara and Thalasseri in north Kerala, is part of the Union Territory of Pondicherry. Here, the CPM is directly campaigning for the victory of the Congress candidate. Moreover, fighting Rahul Gandhi at Wayanad and voting for him in Parliament to make him the Prime Minister is an irony which the CPM cadres will find it tough to explain.
Pouncing on the irony, the BJP and the NDA have asked the LDF and UDF to remove one of their candidates so that they can vote for a single candidate. “They are fooling the voters. They should refrain from such tactics. People are aware of their tactics and they would teach the LDF and UDF a lesson,” said BJP leader and former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekahran who is contesting from Thiruvananthapuram.
“Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad is exposing the helplessness of the Congress party in the country. He is coming to Wayanad to contest as he is sure of defeat in Amethi. Once Jawaharlal Nehru had described Muslim league as a dead horse. But the Congress party is finding a safe seat at Wayanad for Jawaharal Nehru’s great grandson at the mercy of the very same Muslim league,” said BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai.
CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said it was the fear of an inevitable defeat at Amethi that has prompted Rahul Gandhi to contest from a constituency in the far south. “With the arrival of Rahul Gandhi, the LDF’s victory in Kerala has increased manifold. We will win all the 20 seats in the State,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NDA is planning its own strategy. BDJS president Thushar Vellappally or a senior BJP leader may contest against Rahul Gandhi to tie him down. The BDJS is dedicated to the welfare of the numerous ezhava and thiyya communities and has tied up with the BJP. The saffron party could also opt for actor and Rajya Sabha member Suresh Gopi.