Setback for Pinarayi Vijayan Govt As Congress Wins Big in Kerala Assembly Bypoll

Uma Thomas' victory from Thrikkakara is being perceived as the public mood against the chief minister, who led the campaign, and against the K-Rail project, which the LDF government has been pushing aggressively.

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New Delhi: A little over a year after it retained power in Kerala with a massive victory, the CPI(M)-led LDF suffered a huge setback in a bypoll held to the Thrikkakara Assembly constituency with Congress candidate Uma Thomas on Friday winning with a historic margin of 25,016 votes, giving a boost to the morale of the party-led UDF in the southern state.

The victory of Uma Thomas assumes significance as it is seen as a direct setback for chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan who led the LDF campaign from the front along with a group of his Cabinet ministers. On the other hand, the verdict is also being seen as the reflection of the public mood over the K-Rail project, which Vijayan’s government has been vigorously pushing despite protests from affected people and the Oppositon.

With the highest ever majority attained in the history of Thrikkakara seat in the fiercely fought electoral battle, Uma, wife of late Congress leader and MLA P.T. Thomas, became the lone woman legislator of the Congress party in the state Assembly. His untimely demise necessitated the bypoll in the urban constituency.

While Uma won a total of 72,770 votes and managed to maintain a steady lead in all the 12 rounds of counting since the beginning, her nearest rival and Left candidate Jo Joseph, a reputed cardiologist, could never come anywhere near her tally and had to be satisfied with 47,754 votes.

The BJP also suffered a blow in the election as its candidate A.N. Radhakrishnan could garner only 12,957 votes.

P.T. Thomas, Uma’s husband and former legislator, had won the constituency with 59,839 votes and secured a margin of 14,329 during the 2021 Assembly polls.

The defeat also shattered the LDF’s dream of concluding the first anniversary celebrations of the second Pinarayi Vijayan-led government by smashing a century in the 140-member Kerala Assembly in which the CPI(M)-led alliance has 99 members.

A heartbroken CPI(M), which conducted an unparalleled grassroot-level campaign under the leadership of the chief minister to wrest the traditional Congress bastion, termed the result as “unexpected” and admitted its failure much before the counting of votes was over and the Election Commission announced the results officially.

“Unbelievable and unexpected,” CPI(M) Ernakulam district secretary C.N. Mohanan said reacting to the bypoll result. Rejecting the claim that the campaign was led by chief minister himself, Mohanan said it was conducted by the district unit of the party and Vijayan joined the campaign considering the request of the district unit of the party.

The huge victory, however, turned out to be a real lifeline for the opposition Congress, which desperately needed a poll victory to come out of the rude shock of its massive drubbing in the Assembly polls held last year.

State Congress chief K. Sudhakaran even urged Vijayan to quit as chief minister, shouldering the responsibility of the party-led front’s failure. Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly V.D. Satheesan said the people of Thrikkakara “plucked the horns of arrogance and haughtiness” of the CPI(M) by providing a historic victory for UDF in the bypoll.

Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala offers a piece of cake to former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy as they celebrate their victory in the Thrikkakara by-election, in Thiruvananthapuram, Friday, June 3, 2022. Photo: PTI.

Claiming that the verdict was against chief minister Vijayan’s agenda of implementing the K-Rail project, Satheesan said the UDF would not allow the initiative, which is being done undermining the sentiments of the people.

The Congress’ central leadership also expressed happiness over Uma’s victory.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh termed the victory as a “great tribute” to the life and works of P.T. Thomas and said the result was a reply to the arrogance of Vijayan.

“The people of Thrikkakara have spoken up resoundingly against Mundu Modi’s arrogance and his pet K-Rail project, reflecting the sentiment of lakhs of people across Kerala. The verdict is also a great tribute to the life and work of PT Thomas!” he tweeted.

Also read: In Kerala, Protests Mount Against SilverLine Rail Project, a ‘Mega Disaster’

The victory in Thrikkakara is also expected to revive the energy and strength to the state-wide protests against the implementation of the K-Rail project.

A jubilant Uma dedicated the victory to her late husband P.T. Thomas, who was a popular leader of the Congress in Kerala.

“PT (Thomas) is my strength. I dedicate my win to PT. My contest was not against Jo Joseph (CPM candidate), but against Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala Chief Minister). Development should be people-friendly,” Indian Express quoted Uma as saying.

That “development should be people-friendly” was in reference to Vijayan’s ambitious semi high-speed K-Rail project, which is being opposed by affected people.

Her victory is also a setback for former Union minister K.V. Thomas who declared his support for the LDF candidate. Buoyed by the victory of Uma, hundreds of slogan-shouting Congress workers held a march in front of the residence of Thomas, who was expelled from the party after he threw his weight behind Jo Joseph.

While the UDF displayed unprecedented organisational efforts right from the beginning of electioneering, including that of choosing Uma as the candidate and meticulously planning and executing the front’s campaign, the decision to pick Jo Joseph, who is reportedly close to the Catholic church, as the LDF candidate had created confusion among its rank and file initially as the media had reported that another person, a young DYFI leader, would be the party candidate in the constituency.

When the LDF alleged that Uma was picked by the UDF banking on the sympathy wave of her husband’s demise, the opposition front gave a tit-for-tat reply charging that Joseph was chosen, eyeing the influence and strong vote bank of the Church in the constituency.

The presence of a Catholic priest while presenting Joseph as the candidate before the media was used by the political opponents as a weapon to criticise the CPI(M) during the campaign.

When chief minister Vijayan himself took the leadership of the campaign, after his return from the US post treatment on May 10, and camped there for weeks with his cabinet colleagues, Thrikkakara took the centre stage of state politics.

Besides Vijayan, all his cabinet ministers and the majority of MLAs and front leaders camped at the constituency for weeks and made a thorough campaign through house visits and political meetings. As many as five ministers campaigned in Thrikkakara. The chief minister attended eight rallies ahead of the by-election. Hence, an LDF win would have been seen as a sign of approval of CPI(M) policies.

Making their proposed K-Rail semi-high speed rail corridor, which is strongly opposed by the Congress-UDF, as a major campaign topic in the constituency, Vijayan had said it was a battle between the proponents of pro-development and anti-development.

Many Left leaders, including CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, had openly said the bypoll result would be a referendum on the Vijayan government.

Besides, the government’s various development policies and the profile of Jo Joseph as a reputed cardiologist, the LDF also banked on the open support extended by former Union minister K.V.Thomas to the Vijayan government.

Though the AAP-Twenty20 alliance had backed out from the poll race, the nearly 14,000 votes garnered by the industry charity outfit-turned political party in the last assembly polls also seemed to have played a key role in Uma’s thumping victory.

The bypoll result was a setback to the BJP-led NDA also as it could not retain the total number of votes garnered during the 2021 assembly polls.

Even though the party fielded its state vice president A.N. Radhakrishnan, who claimed that he would be the second BJP legislator in the state Assembly after veteran O. Rajagopal who had won during the 2016 polls, he could manage to win only 12,957 votes against the 15,483 votes secured by the party candidate S Saji last year.

The much publicised campaign on the last day led by senior politician P.C. George, who was recently granted bail by the Kerala high court in connection with a hate speech case, also did not seem to come in favour of the saffron party.

(With PTI inputs)