Thiruvananthapuram: Rahul Gandhi's Kerala tour had an instructive itinerary, shaped by an important criterion that the Congress was trying to convert into votes this election season — political murders in North Kerala. He visited the families of slain youth Congress leaders in Kannur and Kasargod.
But his effort to highlight the sensitive topic was overshadowed by senior Congress leader hailing from Kerala, Tom Vadakkan, joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the same day.
Vadakkan was one of those old Congress leaders in Kerala who acted as a bridge between the local unit and the Delhi leadership. Many of the leaders first approached him to present their matters before the leadership in Delhi, said a Congress leader, requesting not to be named.
The Congress was not worried about the electoral impact, he said. For the Congress, Vadakkan does not have any base in Kerala, even at his native place, Thrissur, where his strongest contacts in Catholic church holds a significant sway. In fact, the buzz is that the Congress' denial of Thrissur seat in at least three polls, including this time, caused Vadakkan to quit.
"Those who exited Congress do not have the support of even 10 people in their home turf," VT Balram, a Congress legislator in Kerala, wrote on Facebook.
Leaders such as Balram were also vindicated as Vadakkan's announcement met with a swarm of trolls against the BJP in social media in Kerala. Writer N.S. Madhavan suggested that Vadakkan would end up more as a liability than a gain for the BJP. He tweeted: "I am reminded of Parameswarji, BJP ideologue in Kerala, who, when he was informed that Kamala Suraiya had converted to Islam, said, 'God save Islam!'"
Vadakkan was also trolled as an opportunist on social media, by digging out his earlier anti-BJP tweets. But, according to the Congress leader quoted above, the optics around Vadakkan's exit was likely to hit the grand old party in another way.
Vadakkan's move shows that Congress in Kerala is also vulnerable to the so-called exodus to the saffron brigade, he said. In Kerala, this is already a much heated debate in the poll campaign.
Three days ago, communist leader and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan accused the Congress of becoming "a recruiting agent" for BJP. "How can we believe Congress candidates?" asked Vijayan.
With the election campaign heating up, communist leaders are likely to use Vadakkan's exit to attack the Congress. "Those who are leaving last should switch off the lights and fans. Electricity is precious," quipped MM Mani, the communist government's power minister, in a Facebook post.
The developments come at a time when the Congress has already lost an earlier advantage in the polls because of the inordinate delay in announcing candidates. The party is in a disarray over the selection of candidates, with a number of senior leaders turning away from the contest. Its ally Kerala Congress (Mani), on the other hand, is at the verge of implosion over not giving seat to a factional leader. In sharp contrast, the CPM has gone far ahead in campaigning with the advantage of a highprofile panel announced last week.