Rahul Gandhi’s move to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Kerala is a wily response to Left Democratic Front attempts to frame the electoral fight in Kerala as being between Left and Right (NDA), while claiming that only the Left can stop the saffron surge
When the Communist parties lost their bastions of West Bengal and Tripura, restricting there area of influence to Kerala, one of their leaders said “a speck is enough.”
Now that the Congress has announced that its president Rahul Gandhi will contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election from Kerala’s Wayanad seat besides his constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, even that speck of red is endangered.
Left leaders, right from Sitaram Yechury, Rahul’s friend and general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, were quick to react, some of them sharply, to the deft move.
For the CPM, which leads the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in its last bastion, the causes for worry after Rahul’s move are many, and this was evident in the upset and angry reactions of state leaders.
Many believe Rahul would retain the southern constituency if he wins both, like his grandmother Indira Gandhi did in 1980 when she won both Rae Bareli in UP and Medak in then undivided Andhra Pradesh. She preferred to retain Medak.
Unlike in the Hindi heartland, the Gandhi scion has a high popularity rating across the southern states, which together send 134 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Leaving the northern states to his sister Priyanka Gandhi and a crop of young Congress leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot and concentrating on the south make sense.
This was evident during the announcement of Rahul’s candidature from Wayanad by senior leader and former Kerala CM AK Antony on Sunday, March 31, when he described the constituency as “trijunction” bordering both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Analysts say this move will energise the party cadre across southern India, especially in Kerala where the LDF had been trying to make the campaign appear like Left versus Right, as if it alone was capable of taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) here.
The LDF has been actively wooing minorities, mainly Muslims who constitute 26.56% of the state’s 33.39 million population, who have formed the backbone of Congress support.
The Left is asserting that it is stronger than Congress to resist the saffron surge after it swept the 2016 state elections. One LDF candidate PV Anwar, an independent fielded by the CPM, has been seeking votes in Ponnani, bordering Wayanad, to strengthen “the hands of Gandhi.”
His principal opponent ET Mohammed Basheer, fielded by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) for the Congress party-led United Democratic Front (UDF), also does the same, leaving the voters to decide who is more loyal to Gandhi.
The LDF leaders, including Vijayan, have been alleging a secret pact between the Congress, BJP and IUML to defeat its candidates. They were repeating this time and again, at public meetings, press conferences and television debates, almost as if this was their central election plank.
Now they have suddenly lost the plot and would sweat it out to explain why they were not withdrawing their candidate, PP Suneer of the Communist Party of India (CPI) against Gandhi, a question the Congress has already raised.
The BJP is yet to finalise its candidate for Wayanad. If it decides to field a heavyweight like it has Smriti Irani in Amethi, it will change the state’s political narrative, making the LDF even more jittery.
“Rahul Gandhi is coming here to fight the Left, and we have the strength to challenge him,” a visibly upset Vijayan told a press conference soon after the announcement.
“He’s just one of the 20 UDF candidates from Kerala. We’ll defeat him in Wayanad.”
Also on Sunday, Yechury hit the campaign trail in the state in the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, where senior lawmaker Dr Shashi Tharoor is the Congress candidate. But he was guarded in his attack on the Congress, when he asserted that his party’s priority remains “the defeat of the Modi-led government and to ensure a secular government with the increased strength of the Left.”
“Now let the Congress decide what their priorities are. In Kerala, the fight traditionally is between the LDF and the UDF,” he told reporters here. “In that sort of a fight, what’s the message they want to give is their decision.”
But Wayanad, where minority communities form a majority, is a UDF stronghold and one of the safest seats for Gandhi to choose from in Kerala and he did just that.
The constituency came into being in 2009 after carving out three state assembly segments from Malappuram district and one from Kozhikode district. The Wayanad district has three.
The Congress workers, who were in jubilation since the news came, were distributing sweets and dancing in the streets, especially in these three districts, as they expect him to electrify the campaign and swing voters heavily in their favour in the region.
It’s for the first time that a prime ministerial candidate is coming to Kerala to contest. Leaders like Antony said Rahul’s presence would create a wave here, sweeping all the 20 seats in Kerala.
Analysts do not rule out this possibility. It can also help the opposition to win several of the 134 seats in the south.
The decision also underlines the fact that the possibility of a rout for the Left, which is not in confrontation with the BJP anywhere in the country significantly, is not Rahul’s concern.
The CPM Party Congress last year had resolved against having any tie-up with the Congress party, at the insistence of its leaders from Kerala, especially Vijayan, against the wishes of their West Bengal counterparts.
Congress leaders in the state, keen to see the last bastion of their arch rivals crumbling, were putting pressure on Rahul to contest from here and were eagerly awaiting his nod.
Some analysts feel that Gandhi has hijacked the Left’s plank these elections through ‘Nyay, the minimum income guarantee for low-income families, and liberal policies “embracing all.”
The Congress party is planning a Rahul roadshow from Kozhikode airport in Malappuram district to hilly Wayanad—where a debt-ridden farmer committed suicide last week after being unable to pay back lenders—to file his nomination.
Nominations will close on Thursday, April 4 and the Congress chief is expected here in a couple of days. Kerala will vote on April 23 in staggered national elections spread over two months.
Rahul was in the state earlier this month, meeting the bereaved family of a young Congress worker at Kannur airport and visiting the homes of two other slain youngsters in Kasaragod district, all three victims of the CPM’s alleged “targeted killings.”