"We'll sabotage Muslim League in Malappuram by-election," CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran exuded confidence on Tuesday. "It is said that Malappuram is the forte of the UDF. It is a false belief. We'll prove it wrong this time," he said.

 

The leaders of Left Democratic Front have echoed the same view, knowing very well that defeating Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) national general secretary PK

PK Kunjalikkutty

Kunjalikkutty in Malappuram would be a formidable task. It would be more than sabotage if the LDF's young candidate M B Faizal manages to reverse the verdict in the past few elections in which late E Ahamed had an easy walkover against strong CPM candidates.

 

In 2014, despite the displeasure of a section of young leaders of the IUML against Ahamed's candidature, the former union minister won over half of the total votes polled, registering a margin of over 1.94 lakh votes.  PK Sainaba of the CPM finished far behind with 28.5% of votes while the BJP harnessed 7.6% of votes. 

 

In 2014, despite the displeasure of a section of young leaders of the IUML against Ahamed's candidature, the former union minister won over half of the total votes polled

 

Despite being a stronghold of the IUML, it fielded PK Kunjalikkutty, one of the most popular leaders of the party. The very selection of the shrewd politician who remained a power centre despite facing many political storms and scandals, who is presently the legislator from Vengara in Malappuram, makes it very clear that the IUML was not taking any chances. Now, the challenge before the UDF and the IUML is to increase the margin of victory set by E Ahamed.

 

MB Faizal

Kunjalikkutty's first move was to seek the help of the Kerala Congress (M) leader KM Mani, who left the UDF last year following differences with the Congress. Mani's response was overwhelming. Remembering the 50-year-old 'brotherly relationship' with the IUML, the Kerala Congress leader extended whole-hearted support to Kunjalikkutty. The gesture strengthened the speculations that the Kerala Congress (M) might reconsider its equi-distance policy with UDF and LDF and come back to it old camp. Top Congress leaders also welcomed Mani to its fold and requested him to forget and forgive.

 

Now, that was a masterstroke of Kunjalikkutty, who is known as a smart negotiator and unifier in the front. That was perhaps the most successful initial gesture that would be worrying for the LDF camp. By bringing Kerala Congress and UDF partners closer, Kunjalikkutty will now be aiming at further consolidating the party's voter base and for eating into the vote share of the LDF.

 

By bringing Kerala Congress and UDF partners closer, Kunjalikkutty will now be aiming at further consolidating the party's voter base
 

There were muffled voices in the CPM against the choice of M B Faizal, who is a new face in electoral politics. "If Faizal makes a dent into the victory margin of E Ahamed, it would be a reason for us to celebrate," sources in the LDF said.

 

"The BJP is striving to harness Hindu votes while the UDF is trying to win minority votes. We will get human votes," said CPI leader Kanam Rajendran, steering clear of the allegations that the LDF was aiming at splitting Sunni votes by fielding Faizal.

 

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan

Beyond all the political calculations, the Malappuram by-election, slated for 12 April, is inconsequential. It is not going to create any ripples in the national level. But it holds significance for the state politics as the poll campaign would be focusing more on Kerala issues, even though Narendra Modi, demonetization, communalism and other national issues would be discussed in general.

 

The BJP is not a keen player at all in Malappuram, with less than 8% vote share in 2014. But both the fronts have blamed each other of a secret deal with BJP. A dip in BJP's vote share would see a fresh round of allegations after the polls. But a rise in its vote share and further consolidation of the Hindu votes would be a matter of concern for both fronts.


But what is more interesting is the CPM's strategy (or is it a misadventure) of calling the by-poll an assessment of the state government. Despite being a LS by-election, the CPM declared that it would be an evaluation of the Pinarayi Vijayan government's performance in the past few months! Kanam Rajendran also said that there's no problem in considering the polls as a test for LDF rule in the state.

 

CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was the first to call it an appraisal of the state government, there by setting a new agenda for the polls. The BJP was quick to grab the opportunity to put the CPM in a tricky situation. "Will Pinarayi Vijayan resign if the LDF failed in Malappuram," quipped Kummanam Rajashekharan, state BJP chief.

 

Now, political observers are wondering why Kodiyeri Balakrishnan called the by-election an assessment of state government.

 

Pinarayi Vijayan

In fact, the 'risky' statements of the Left leaders, by calling it a referendum of sorts of Pinarayi Vijayan government, have made the by-election significant, which otherwise would have gone without making any political tremors. If Kunjalikkutty wins by a huge margin, the CPM and Pinarayi Vijayan government, which assumed office in May last year, will have a tough time explaining why and how it would correct its course. The party leadership will face criticism for the selection of the candidate and the allegations that it was helping Kunjalikkutty by fielding a weak rival.

 

The victory of Kunjalikkutty will see the rise of a strong Muslim League leader in the national level. It would also mean an assembly by-poll at Vengara.

 

Now, political observers are wondering why Kodiyeri Balakrishnan called the by-election an assessment of state government. Was it a tacit bid to put pressure on Pinarayi Vijayan? Or is it just a show of confidence that the LDF could pull off a victory, despite all odds.