Bengaluru: After a humiliating loss to Congress in Lok Sabha elections, the CPM and BJP in Kerala are now making plans to return some lost ground with six ensuing bypoll contests to assembly seats.
The bypolls were necessitated after four seats—Vatiyoorkavu, Konni, Ernakulam and Aroor—were vacated by MLAs who won parliamentary polls, and in two others—Manjeswaram and Pala— elections were already due since sitting legislators died recently. Election Commission is yet to decide on the dates of the bypoll but discussions have begun within parties in Kerala on how to win these seats.
For the CPM leader and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the bypolls will be a prestige war and a precursor to Kerala's next big fight, assembly elections in 2021. The next state election will decide the fate of Left's power in Kerala, its last stronghold.
The CPM received its biggest setback when it lost 19 out of Kerala's 20 seats in 2019 Lok Sabha contest to Congress and allies. A revival from the drubbing is difficult for the Left, since it was ruling only in one seat, Aroor, out of those going for the bypolls. However the party has decided to make a pitched fight in all six seats, said CPM leader V Vijayaraghavan.
For the BJP, that has not ever won more than one assembly seat in Kerala, the bypolls are the last stop to show some signs of progress before heading to the assembly contest.
The BJP state unit gave a shocker to its parent body by drawing a blank in Kerala's Lok Sabha elections, at a time when the party's leader Narendra Modi’s popularity has reached a zenith and its agitation over Sabarimala temple made national headlines for months.
The BJP has strong faith in recovering from the damage by winning at least in two seats in the bypolls, Vatiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram District and Manjeswaram in Kasargod District, according to party insiders. It was a runner up to Congress and Muslim League, in that order, in these seats in previous state elections in 2016. In Manjeswaram, its top leader K Surendran lost by a mere 86 votes, amidst the thick of a bogus voting controversy. The party is also eying at a strong face to be fielded in Konni, in Pathanamthitta, which houses Sabarimala hill shrine and home to several agitations against breaking the temple-ban on women.
The bypolls are going to be a roller-coaster ride for Congress too. Except Aroor, which had a CPM MLA, all other seats were with Congress and allies. A top Congress leader told Mint that it has already started discussing top leaders to be fielded, anticipating strong challengers from the state-ruling CPM and center-ruling BJP. The party is saddled with internal bickering within ally Kerala Congress (Mani) or KC(M) party, influential in Pala seat.
A succession battle has emerged in KC(M) after the recent death of its chairman KM Mani, who got elected from Pala continuously for about five decades. A section within the party led by P J Joseph is in open war with Mani's son and the other power center within the party, Jose K Mani. On Wednesday, the group under Jose K Mani rebelled against Joseph appointing himself as the parliamentary leader and chairman of the party, sending signals of a near implosion of KC(M).