Monday, May 20, 2024

Congress’s changing fortunes in Kerala

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as a member of the Lok Sabha was condemned by both the Congress-led UDF and the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala. Mr. Gandhi was disqualified soon after he was convicted on charges of criminal defamation by a Surat court.

The allies of both the coalitions in Kerala denounced the swift removal of Mr. Gandhi’s MP status as “authoritarian and anti-democratic.” The BJP was quick to argue that Mr. Gandhi is not above the law.

Regardless of whether or not Mr. Gandhi will receive a reprieve from a higher court, the issue has generated a wave of sympathy for him. If he is permitted to contest the Lok Sabha election in 2024, the former Congress president is likely to run for the Wayanad seat. However, if the court verdict is unfavourable, Wayanad will hold a by-election.

Despite the controversy surrounding his disqualification, the impact of the Rahul Gandhi factor on Kerala politics is significant, as demonstrated by the strong reactions from the State’s major political parties. However, it remains to be seen how his legal battles will play out and whether he will continue to impact the State’s political landscape in the coming months.

Also read | Making sense of the disqualification of a Lok Sabha MP

The CPI(M) State leadership has already responded to the BJP’s prodding on whether the UDF and LDF will jointly present a candidate for the bypolls. It has declared its resolve to field a candidate if a by-election occurs. The unambiguous statement by the CPI (M) Kerala unit secretary, M.V. Govindan that the party’s condemnation of Mr. Gandhi’s disqualification was principle-based and not individual-based has put an end to any speculation.

The CPI(M) is averse to finding itself in a situation similar to the one that it faced during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when Mr. Gandhi boldly threw his hat in the ring from Wayanad as his second seat. The Congress’s strategic move not only breathed fresh life into its electoral prospects in Kerala, but also helped unleash a strong campaign across the State. The UDF’s fortunes were lifted by the general belief that the Congress would ascend to power at the Centre, overthrowing the Narendra Modi regime.

The Congress also cleverly co-opted the BJP’s agenda on the CPI(M)’s stance on women’s entry to the Sabarimala shrine, after the Supreme Court ruling. This dealt a blow to the LDF. The coalition tasted victory in just one constituency in 20 seats.

Mr. Gandhi’s charisma may not wield the same compelling force as it once did for its novelty factor, and the CPI(M) has learned its lessons from the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. This enabled the CPI(M) to retain power in the 2021 Assembly polls. Currently the political discourse centres around Opposition unity, aimed at thwarting the Modi-led government’s bid for a third consecutive term in power at the Centre. The media attention surrounding Mr. Gandhi’s disqualification will probably be overshadowed soon by other issues arising in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress’s gains in Kerala, which were achieved through Mr. Gandhi’s Wayanad candidacy, have lost significance. The Bharat Jodo Yatra enhanced his prestige. However, the Central leadership is embarrassed by the continuous infighting within the Congress in Kerala, which is expected to adversely impact the forthcoming polls.

A hint that there has been a loss of gains came from Thalassery Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplany’s statement offering to assist the BJP in opening its account in Kerala in the general election on the condition that the Centre agrees to raise the price of rubber procurement to ₹300 per kg. Thamarassery Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil supported the Archbishop’s statement saying that the Church would stand by those who help the rubber farmers and that the BJP was not untouchable for them. In the previous Lok Sabha polls, the Christian community overwhelmingly backed the Congress, especially after Mr. Gandhi chose to contest from Wayanad. It is possible that the Catholic Church, particularly a segment of the Syro-Malabar Church, now envisages a scenario where the BJP will hold power at the Centre.

The outcome of the Karnataka Assembly polls is expected to be a turning point. A clear majority for the Congress would bolster Mr. Gandhi’s reputation and elevate the Congress’s credibility. The results of the Karnataka election are likely to reverberate across Kerala.

#Congresss #changing #fortunes #Kerala

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