A man shows his finger marked with indelible ink after casting his vote at a polling station inundated in rain water following heavy rainfall during the bypolls for assembly seats in Ernakulam district, Monday. (PTI)
A man shows his finger marked with indelible ink after casting his vote at a polling station inundated in rain water following heavy rainfall during the bypolls for assembly seats in Ernakulam district, Monday. (PTI)

Kerala bypolls see 60% turnout

  • Bypolls are seen as a curtain-raiser to which way the winds are blowing before the next assembly polls in 2021
  • In Ernakulam district several polling booths had to be shifted due to the heavy rains

BENGALURU : Despite heavy rains playing spoilsport and seven out of its 14 districts on 'red alert', Keralites came out with more than 60% turnout in the five politically sensitive bypolls that could predict if the current Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM government has finally made peace with Sabarimala protestors.

The bypolls are seen as a curtain-raiser to which way the winds are blowing before the next assembly elections in 2021, and whether the CPM will get to keep Kerala, the only communists-run state in India now. It will also decide whether the third front rising under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which breathed fire into the Sabarimala agitation, could damage the prospects of the two dominant fronts in the state— the CPM-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front.

When the voting began, it seemed the people may have deserted the bypolls, as most of central and southern Kerala submerged under heavy rains and flash floods and turnout hovered below 20%, sharply in contrast to the state's historically high turnout numbers.

Several polling booths had to be shifted in Ernakulam district, where the rains wrecked most damage by inundating major arterial roads, houses and commercial establishments. Railway tracks went under water and five express trains and 12 passenger trains were fully cancelled. Power utilities were severely hit, causing power outage across cities. Schools in most districts remained shut. Even as local political parties demanded a postponement of the bypolls, Kerala's chief election commissioner Teeka Ram Meena refused to give in. By noon, however, the turnout picked up when the rains subdued. Ernakulam recorded the lowest turnout of 53.32% while highest was registered in Aroor, at 72.38%.

The rains have thrown in more unpredictability in an unusually unpredictable election. There were damaging issues for all three fronts. The CPM met with anger from caste and communal consolidations on the basis of how it handled Sabarimala agitations last year and numerous other controversies during the term of the government, whereas the Congress and BJP were troubled with infighting risking to threaten decent chances to win. In the final lap of campaigning, but, the CPM was able to pick up steam and show some progress, said J Mercykutty Amma, a minister in the government. "This will be a repeat of 1987 elections, when CPM fought and won against caste and communal consolidations coming together to defeat us," she said.

The Congress camp has a hard task at hand than all others. Out of the five, four are sitting seats of the Congress. If the heavy-lifting of winning four seats are not enough, the loss of even one sitting seat will be projected by the CPM as a trust vote for the government and a major booster for the party ahead of 2021. The swing in votes in two seats— Vattiyoorkavu and Konni, closer to Sabarimala than the rest— would be crucial to see if the CPM has finally made peace with Hindu believers protesting over Sabarimala controversy, who are credited in a major part with its loss of 19 out of 20 seats during the recent Lok Sabha polls. The Sabarimala agitation though, showered windfall gains to Congress, which won the 19 seats, but failed to deliver for the BJP, which drew a blank in Lok Sabha polls.

The LDF made calculated guesses and organised work to come across as pro-believers in this election. In Manjeswaram, where the BJP lost by mere 89 votes in the previous assembly election in 2016, it also picked a candidate who supported the Sabarimala agitations. Even as it clashed with caste outfits like Nair Service Society (NSS) which openly supported Congress for the bypolls, it addressed ego-clashes with the leadership of other community forums like SNDP and consolidated their support. Senior party leaders including ministers, went home-to-home for canvassing voters and apprised of their loyalty to Hindu community members.

In almost every rally, its main face and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan pilloried down the opposition voices that he is destroying the Sabarimala temple by advertising the money spent on the development of the temple. The second in line in the CPM, state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan even said in one rally that “most of the Sabarimala devotees come from the CPM", an extraordinary statement coming from a party that goes to great lengths to be passive in religiosity to the extent that it categorically banned religious activities for members.

"We are sure of winning most of the seats. In Konni, but, there is a strong undercurrent of caste and other equations which makes it difficult to predict. But in no way I see NDA making any advancement," said VD Satheeshan, a senior leader and legislator from Congress.

Over 70% turnout in Telangana bypolls

The Huzurnagar by-election in Telangana concluded on Monday peacefully, with no untoward incidents being reported in the assembly segment. Over 70% voters turned up to exercise their democratic right and to cast their vote. While nothing happened at any of the places where voting was held, there was mild tension in Hyderabad as several Congress leaders were taken into preventive custody, after the party gave a call to lay ‘siege’ to the chief minister’s camp office.

Congress leader and member of Parliament from the Secunderabad Lok Sabha seat A. Revanth Reddy was arrested in a dramatic fashion, after he managed to give the cops a slip and reached chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s (KCR) camp office, Pragathi Bhavan, to protest in front of it. Reddy and other Congress leaders were protesting against the state government for not holding talks with unions of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation, which have been leading an indefinite strike since 5 October.

The Huzurnagar by-election was necessitated after sitting MLA and Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy resigned as he won from the Nalgonda parliamentary seat during the 2019 general elections. His wife Padmavathi Reddy was given the Congress ticket, while the TRS fielded Sanampudi Saidireddy, who lost the seat during the 2018 state elections by a margin of over 7,000 votes. The by-election is seen by as a prestige issue between KCR and Congress leaders.