Thiruvananthapuram: The Bharatiya Janata Party appears to be emerging as a force to reckon with in Kerala – a state it has yet to win an Assembly or Lok Sabha seat in – garnering 34,145 votes in the by-election to the Aruvikkara Assembly constituency, the result of which was announced on Tuesday.
The Congress candidate K.S. Sabarinath, contesting under the banner of the United Democratic Front (UDF), retained the seat for the front polling, 56,448 votes, while M. Vijayamukar of the CIPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) came second with 46,320 votes.
The by-poll was dubbed a referendum on the last four years of the UDF government led by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The victory of the Congress candidate, son of former Assembly Speaker G. Karthikeyan, whose death in March this year had led to the by-poll, is thus a personal victory for the CM.
The most significant aspect of the result, however, is the progress registered by the BJP in this constituency since the last Assembly election four years ago and the Lok Sabha election a year ago. In the 2011 Assembly election, it had won only around 7,000 votes, while in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections it polled around 15,000 votes in the relevant segment (which falls under the Attingal Lok Sabha constituency). Thus, party candidate O. Rajagopal’s performance this time is nothing short of spectacular.
The UDF’s vote share came down from 48.78 per cent to 39.6 between 2011 and 2015 and the LDF’s from 39.61 per cent to 32.50 per cent. The BJP’s vote share, however, increased dramatically from 6.61 per cent to 23.96 per cent. Both coalitions have clearly come in for serious vote erosion to the benefit of the BJP.
“The result shows we are emerging as the single largest party in the state,” claimed BJP State president V. Muralidharan, “because we contest the election alone, while both the UDF and the LDF are multi-party coalitions. He said Rajagopal’s candidature too had mattered.
The UDF has weathered controversy after controversy during the past four years and there is even a group within the party wishing for a leadership change. A strengthened Chandy, however, said the result had exposed the hollowness of all the graft charges the LDF had been levelling against his government.
The CPI(M) leadership dismissed the setback as a development that was not indicative of the mood of the electorate in the state as a whole. Party State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said “anti-government votes had split”, facilitating a UDF victory.
Kerala will go in for local body elections later this year and Assembly elections are due in May 2016. The by-poll result strengthen’s the Chief Minister’s position within the UDF and makes him the favourite to lead the UDF in the next Assembly elections. It also throws up new worries to the LDF.