Uma Thomas | Mathrubhumi Photo
Thrikkakkara is famed for Kerala’s only temple dedicated to Vamanamoorthi. Even though Vamana for Malayali is the villain, who by deception drove their dear and benevolent king Mahabali into Pataala, their roles reverse in the legend’s North Indian version. Vamana is the hero there and Bali the villain. Mahavishnu incarnates as Vamana to finish off the Asura king Daityaraj Bali, intoxicated by arrogance after he attained supreme powers from conducting vishwajeet yagya under Shukracharya.
Disclaimer: Choose whichever version you please but any similarity between what you picked and the Thrikkakkara result is only coincidental.
Uma Thomas’s victory at Thrikkakara was a foregone conclusion. But her whopping majority has surprised even the United Democratic Front (UDF). Although Opposition leader V D Satheesan had predicted a majority of more than 20,000 for Uma initially, the UDF’s optimism took a nosedive as the high voltage campaign reached its final stages. As N K Premachandran admitted, all they prayed for by the last round was to manage a scrape through. The reason was the mindboggling campaign put by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government over the final rounds, with almost the entire cabinet led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself spending days together in Thrikkakkara. Not many by-polls in Kerala had faced such a phenomenon, when the poll result was inconsequential to the government's fate.
What could explain Uma’s impressive margin and the more than 10% rise in Congress votes? There are many. Thrikkakara’s pro-Congress tradition is well known, and it had stood with it even when the LDF wave swept across the state, like in 2021. The sympathy for the late P T Thomas’s wife further fortified the Congress bastion. Uma Thomas efficiently rose up to her new role during the campaign, which helped her win hearts beyond mere sympathy. There is no doubt that most of the 10.18% votes the Twenty20 won in 2021 in Thrikkakara, which is its strongest seat in the state, must have gone to Congress as it chose not to contest. Even when Twenty20 kept away from the contest, it was no secret that the party and its supremo, Sabu Jacob, were so vehemently hostile to the ruling LDF because of the business problems he faced.
And finally, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) the only one among the three major political formations that suffered a drop in votes compared to 2021 and even lost deposit. UDF must have certainly cornered some of the votes dropped from the NDA’s kitty. All the communal dramatics by P C George who bragged about getting Christian votes for the NDA, fell flat in Thrikkakara. NDA’s vote drop was also because it fielded a hardcore party apparachik instead of someone who could have attracted the growing constituency apathetic to both the LDF and UDF but averse to identify with the Sangh Parivar. Even someone like E.Sreedharan would have made a major mark in the highly urban constituency with a significant presence of many young IT professionals and apolitical middle-class sections who admire technocrats. Particularly so when the Twenty20 and AAP have kept away from the fray.
Apart from these “pull factors” that favoured UDF, what were the “push factors” that led to the LDF’s disaster? Even though a dominant anti-incumbency mood was not visible, a growing antipathy to the Chief Minister’s hubris was palpable. It could be argued that Vijayan’s arrogance is nothing new and that it didn’t deny him an unprecedented victory barely a year ago. But in times of major crises like war, disasters or epidemics, a “powerful” and even an arrogant leader would be welcomed by the people as their savior in difficulty. But the very sections which lionized the “Captain” during the height of Covid needn’t approve of him in less difficult times. Vijayan’s stubbornness on the SilverLine, even when many from the Left too virally oppose it, certainly didn’t help LDF. It has led to the gathering of an anti-government mood even when none in Thrikkakkara was to lose land for SilverLine. For the UDF, SilverLine came as a political gift when they had no significant political weapons to fight with. It is quite surprising that no criticism has surfaced against the disingenuous project within the CPI(M) or the LDF that have traditionally been known to understand people’s pulse better.
The root cause for this is the increasingly unquestionable clout Vijayan has acquired in the CPI(M) and the LDF. Never before has any government in Kerala, except during the Emergency when K.Karunakaran was Home Minister, been totally dominated by a single leader. Ditto with the party and the front. The emergence of the supreme leader has silenced critics and fuelled sycophancy in the party, a sure recipe for disaster. Gone are the days when the CPI(M)’s powerful organisational committees used to haul even leaders like EMS Namboodiripad or EK Nayanar over coals on policies and projects. The situation gets even more precarious when the “supreme leader” has little to show as achievements. The last Pinarayi government’s management of the pandemic and the care administered through grocery kits etc was good enough to win a second term. This time, despite the much-trumpeted “development agenda”, it had little to flaunt except the hot-button SilverLine.
The LDF candidate’s selection too, was controversial. Though Jo Joseph was a good cardiac surgeon who also turned out a hardworking candidate, he fell far behind Uma in political and emotional scores. CPI(M) hoped Joseph’s church links and professional stature would make up for this. They also expected the good doc would attract the constituency’s apolitical urban middle class. Nothing worked.
Notwithstanding the increase in the votes won by its candidate over last time, it was nowhere near what the CPI(M) calculated. The Syro Malabar Church (SMC), which openly distanced from the candidate from the beginning, did not lend any support. Moreover, the SMC and laity at Ernakulam are presently split in the middle and no longer command any captive vote bank that goes by any encyclical or diktat. CPI(M)’s wooing of K V Thomas also has backfired. Not just the Christian votes, CPI(M) did not win even the support it won last time from non-Muslim groups, including the Popular Front of India, perhaps because of the Alappuzha sloganeering incident.
Though it is welcome that able individuals from different walks enter politics to make it more informed, CPI(M)’s intention was not as noble as it claimed. The eye was certainly more on Joseph’s church links than his professional standing or even his Left sympathies. It has also exposed the CPI(M)’s sheer inability to field a genuine party candidate in Thrikkakkara, even after so many elections.
So, what’s next? It is yet to be seen whether the CPI(M) or the LDF would learn any lesson from the Thrikkakara. CPI(M) usually does not admit mistakes immediately, blame others for their defeat, and brag there was nothing wrong with its policies which it would continue. Then, it would take a Party Congress to own up all the misdoings and announce course corrections. State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s remark even after the debacle that SilverLine would not be shelved is an example. Pinarayi is known even more for such inflexibility. CPI(M)’s central leadership which is at its weakest in history or the CPI, no more a corrective force, don’t appear capable of making the government see reason. However, with the next elections to the Lok Sabha and assembly being two and four years away, respectively, LDF certainly has time to mend its ways, if it wants to.
Thrikkakara would have a big impact on the UDF and Congress too. It would certainly smother any snowballing of the revolt against KPCC boss K Sudhakaran and Satheesan. Sulking elders like Oommen Chandy or Ramesh Chennithala will have to continue to lie low. The big win certainly forms the only silver streak in Congress’s dismal state of things on the national level, and the successful Kerala duo would enjoy good clout with the beleaguered High Command.
And for the BJP, it is yet another disaster proving all its tom-tomming hollow, yet again. Carrying the deadweight of PC George on its shoulders proved BJP leadership’s political cluelessness. It has also shown once again how irredeemable the Kerala unit is to BJP’s national leadership.