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Malappuram by-election: Battle lines drawn, speculation over Mani’s fate

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-03-2017 Nidheesh M.K.

Bengaluru: Weeks before by-election for Kerala’s Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency, political churning has started in the state.

Malappuram goes to polls on 12 April.

Preliminary media reports had suggested the electoral contest to be a friendly match as it came after the death of a veteran parliamentarian from the Muslim League, E. Ahamed.

However, the upcoming election is fast turning out to be a strongly pitched electoral battle where friends are turning foes and vice-versa.

This week saw K. M. Mani, the estranged friend of the Congress-led opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), readily accepting to campaign for P.K. Kunhalikutty, the UDF candidate from Muslim League for the by-election.

While Mani said this is strictly a show of support for Kunhalikutty, a legislator since 1982 and a key figure within the UDF, rumours are flying thick and fast about Mani’s return to the UDF camp.

Besides, two senior state Congress leaders—former chief minister Oommen Chandy and current opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala—have pleaded Mani to come back to the party fold in the wake of the development. But Mani is yet to accede to their requests.

Kerala Congress (Mani) was the third largest ally of the UDF before it left it in a huff last August. At that time, he had compared the Congress to “a pretty girl in the town to whom everyone is interested but who is not attracted to anyone” and decided to sit as a separate block in the Kerala assembly.

The move was a setback for the Congress as the opposition’s clout was considerably reduced both inside and outside the state assembly.

To be sure, Mani’s return to the UDF may not happen anytime soon, as he himself claims, but the present development makes it seem not as unlikely as it was in August, according to analysts.

Meanwhile, the election battleground has turned friends into foes in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

BJP ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) is irked as they claim they were not consulted by the alliance leader before declaring N. Sreeprakash as the NDA candidate for the by-election. The father and son duo,who heads the BDJS, social organisation SNDP general secretary Vellapally Natesan and his son and BDJS president Tushar Vellappally, minced no words in expressing displeasure when contacted over phone.

Ridiculing the alliance’s chances of winning, Natesan, who usually sports a clean-shaven look, has said he would grow his moustache if the BJP wins. BJP national executive member P K Krishnadas said over phone that the party is working to resolve all issues at the earliest.

The by-election is also the first electoral battle for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) after winning a massive mandate in May last year. It also comes close to the completion of the one-year term of the government led by CPM’s Pinarayi Vijayan.

Political onlookers are patiently watching how the by-election campaign will pan out. Two scenarios are likely to emerge, according to analysts. Either it will become a fight between the ruling LDF and the Congress-led opposition with the image of the government at stake, or it will become the breeding ground for parties to try something new such as to push back the growth of their common enemy, the BJP. For now, there seems little evidence of the first, with the primary evidence being the choice of candidate by the LDF in M.B. Faizal.

Faizal, a district president of the CPM’s youth outfit DYFI, appears to many a low-profile candidate when compared to Muslim League strongman from the UDF, Kunjalikutty.

It has raised doubts whether there is a tacit understanding between the Muslim League and the LDF to avoid splitting of votes benefitting BJP.

“At this point, I do not see an understanding between Muslim League and LDF. Maybe as the election nears, we cannot rule out such an understanding to shape up. It could be that the CPM fielded a low key candidate to avoid a double whammy for the government. If they had fielded a high profile candidate had if he was defeated, the opposition will say it reflects poorly on the government’s performance so far,” said J. Prabhash, a political analyst and professor of political science at the University of Kerala.

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