Wayanad was abuzz with talk of the possibility of a by-election being held soon for the Lok Sabha seat that fell vacant when Rahul Gandhi was disqualified as MP, as a mock poll was conducted on Wednesday.
The mock poll was held under the supervision of the offices of the Kozhikode district collector, deputy collector and district election officer, according to a circular issued to all political parties.
The mock poll was scheduled after the first phase of testing of EVMs and VVPAT machines in preparation for the likely by-election.
The exercise left many a Congress supporter baffled because the Election Commission has time until September 22 to fill the vacancy and Rahul's appeal is pending in court.
The Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency spans the districts of Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram. While the Kalpetta, Sultan Bathery and Mananthavady Assembly segments are in Wayanad district, the Wandoor, Eranad and Nilambur constituencies come under Malappuram district and Thiruvambady is in Kozhikode.
While announcing the Karnataka Assembly elections on March 29, chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar had said there was no hurry to schedule the Wayanad bypoll since the poll panel had six months from the date of disqualification.
A Wayanad district administration official, who declined to be named, confirmed that EVMs and VVPAT machines had already been tested in the district. "We routinely test these machines. But I am not authorised to confirm or deny whether the latest exercise is a prelude to the Lok Sabha by-election,” he told The Telegraph on Wednesday.
Sulthan Bathery MLA and former president of the Wayanad district unit of the Congress, I.C. Balakrishnan, said there was no information on the bypoll. “I don’t think a by-election will be held anytime soon,” he told this newspaper. However, he refused to say anything more.
Even the lower rung of the party’s district leadership couldn’t digest the mock poll when Rahul’s appeal is pending before Gujarat High Court. "What is the hurry when there is enough time and when the appeal is pending before the high court?" Wayanad district secretary of the Kerala Pradesh Pravasi Congress, P.C. Assainar, said.
CPM Wayanad district secretary P. Gagarin slammed the preparations for the bypoll. "We have already said that disqualifying Rahul Gandhi is an undemocratic act. So we don’t agree with this move to go ahead and hold the by-election before the final verdict from the court,” he told a TV channel.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had objected to the decision to disqualify Rahul and urged all like-minded people to react strongly against the move.
The hill district bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu was the hub of electoral activities in Kerala when Rahul decided to contest from there. His presence had galvanised the party that led to the Congress-led United Democratic Front winning 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats from Kerala.
Rahul had trounced his nearest rival, P.P. Suneer of the CPI, by 4,31,770 votes.
Rahul was disqualified from the Lok Sabha following his conviction in March by a Surat court that handed him a two-year jail term — the maximum possible in a criminal defamation case.
The case relates to Rahul's comment on the Modi surname in Kolar, Karnataka, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The Lok Sabha secretariat lost no time in disqualifying him, triggering nationwide protests and criticism even from political rivals.
While his sentence has been suspended during the pendency of an appeal he filed in the Surat sessions court, his application for suspension of the conviction was rejected, following which he challenged the order in Gujarat High Court where the case is pending.
In the meantime, Rahul has vacated his bungalow in Delhi after being ordered to do so.