New Delhi (Agency): Puthuppally by-election has not, sprung any surprises. Congress candidate Chandy Oommen won the by-election, necessitated by the death of his father and former chief minister Oommen Chandy with a big majority.
The Congress won the battle riding the crest of a tidal wave of sympathy for the departed leader. The Oommen Chandy factor swept aside all the impediments on the road to poll victory. It was, by all means, an impressive victory. Chandy Oommen polled 80,144 votes (61.17 per cent) as against CPI(M) candidate Jaick C Thomas’s 42, 425(32.38 per cent) votes.
The victory is no surprise, though. Puthuppally has remained a Congress citadel for the last 53 years. Wonder it would have been if the CPI(M) had scored an upset victory. That the CPI(M) candidate, managed to retain the political vote base of the party in the bargain, in spite of the massive sympathy wave, is a positive takeaway for the CPI(M) and the Left Democratic Front. The sympathy wave subsumed all other campaign issues, including the developmental agenda, which the CPI(M) focused on, did not sway the Puthuppally voters who are still luxuriating in the memory of Oommen Chandy’s performance and charisma.
But then, the Congress would be making a big mistake that Puthuppally would repeat in the 2024 Lok Sabha poll battle, which is an altogether different ball game. As the saying goes, one swallow does not make a summer. The Congress cannot afford the luxury of being lulled into a false sense of complacency and rest on the Puthuppally laurels. The task is cut out for the party. The Congress organization remains weak and disjointed. And unless the party and the United Democratic Front (UDF) it heads, strengthens the organizational machinery, winning the parliamentary election won’t be east at all.
True, Puthuppally saw a united Congress launching a well-planned campaign. For once, group rivalries receded to the background. And factional leaders pulled their weight, sinking their differences. But the question is: will the unity endure in the post-Puthuppally scenario? Past record is anything but impressive. That all is not well in the Congress in Kerala is an open secret. Senior leader Ramesh Chennithala is an unhappy man. He is upset over being denied a berth in the Congress Working Committee (CWC). So is another senior leader K Muralidharan, who has ruled out contesting the LS polls.
It also remains to be seen how the Puthuppally winner will be accommodated in the State Congress set-up. Will he get the same enthusiastic response which his father evoked during his lifetime. Or will he be sidelined once the Puthuppally victory euphoria evaporates/ These are questions which do not have an easy answer.
The poll result holds lessons for the CPI(M), too. The party will have to go in for serious introspection. As Politburo member M A Baby said the party’s failure to attract additional voters must be examined in depth. A defeat is a defeat, he said, adding that it would not do to attribute it to the ‘transfer’ of BJP votes to the Congress alone as a few CPI(M) leaders are doing. That the CPI(M) candidate led only in one out of the 182 booths in Puthuppally is a serious matter. The party will have to identify the reasons why it fell behind even in the six – under its control – out of eight panchayats in the constituency. Correctives must be applied immediately as the LS polls are only months away.
The biggest loser in the by-election is the BJP. The result has come as a rude jolt to the party. Adding insult to injury is the precipitous dip in its vote share from 11, 695 votes in the 2021 assembly elections to 6,554 votes in this by-election. The biggest embarrassment: the party candidate lost his deposit despite a high-voltage campaign launched by top BJP leaders not only in the state but also at the central level. The lessons are clear: the BJP will have to drastically change its strategy if it wants to put up even a semblance of fight in the parliamentary polls. The BJP state chief trying to blame it all on the sympathy factor and the so-called anti-incumbency wave was a pathetic sight. Puthuppally has dealt a devastating body blow to the BJP’s hopes of putting up a good show in the Lok Sabha polls. (IPA Service)
By P. Sreekumaran