Thiruvananthapuram, June 15: R. Selvaraj, the former CPM MLA who once termed suicide a better option to joining the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala, today won a bypoll on a Congress ticket.
Riding an anti-CPM wave triggered by the killing of a rebel leader in the state’s north, the murder boast of another and the consolidation of caste Christian votes behind him, Selvaraj beat rival F. Lawrence of the Left Democratic Front in Neyyattinkara, 18km from here.
The poll also saw the BJP making impressive gains with its candidate registering a five-fold increase in votes.
Selvaraj secured 52,528 votes, 6,378 more than Lawrence who polled 46,194. The BJP, which had pinned its hopes on former Union minister of state . Rajagopal to open its account, had to be content with the third place.
But the party had reason to smile with its candidate making the maximum gain in vote share. In the 2011 Assembly polls, the BJP had just 6,730 votes, which went up to 30,507 this time.
The UDF’s vote share, too, went up by 4,519 over the 48,009 votes it had garnered in 2011. The LDF lost the maximum votes — 8,517 — compared to 2011 when it had 54,711 votes.
The bypoll was necessitated by Selvaraj’s resignation from the CPM and the Assembly this March. He later joined the UDF but the mood was predominantly hostile with the UDF’s “surrender” before ally Muslim League — which had demanded and got one ministerial berth more than agreed upon — triggering a communal divide.
But then came the May 4 lynching of rebel CPM leader T.P. Chandrasekharan in Kannur in the state’s north. The arrests pointed to a CPM hand setting off a debate on political murders. Then followed the infamous speech by M.M. Mani, the CPM district secretary in Idukki, who bragged about executions carried out at the party’s instance in the past.
The developments pushed the CPM on the defensive and gave Selvaraj a line of defence. “The CPM had plans to eliminate me too, which is why I took refuge in the Congress,” he claimed.
Observers say the Neyyattinkara loss would deepen the fault lines in the CPM, already split between Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan and party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.
For Achuthanandan, it comes as a triumph of his views about value erosion in the party, its alleged patronage of murder politics and autocratic ways of the official leadership (read Vijayan).
Achuthanandan fired his shot soon after the result was out, attributing the loss to the ripples left by Mani’s speech and the UDF’s success in turning public opinion on the Chandrasekharan murder against the CPM.
But the CPM’s official reaction was more measured, blaming the media and the UDF of running a misinformation campaign against the party.
Allies like the CPI, however, backed the Achuthanandan line calling upon the Left Front in general and the CPM in particular to introspect.
Today’s win has increased the tally of the Oommen Chandy government in the Assembly to 73, compared to the Left’s 67. The victory, say party sources, strengthens Chandy’s hands and would make it more difficult for detractors in the Congress who had been hoping to replace him.