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Communal card cry over CPM’s choice of rookie in Kerala

Jo Joseph, a 44-year-old cardiologist at Lisie Hospital in Ernakulam, has been picked by Left Front for the May 31 Thrikkakara bypoll
Jo Joseph.
Jo Joseph.
File photo

K.M. Rakesh   |   Bangalore   |   Published 07.05.22, 02:39 AM

The CPM sought to spring a surprise in Kerala by fielding a fellow-traveller cardiologist in an Assembly bypoll seat considered a stronghold of the Congress-led Opposition front but the ruling party is now finding itself battling a charge that it has reduced itself to playing the communal card.

Jo Joseph, a 44-year-old cardiologist at Lisie Hospital in Ernakulam, has been picked by the CPM-led Left Front for the May 31 Thrikkakara bypoll while many were expecting  a full-time party worker to take on Uma Thomas, the Congress candidate.

Uma is the widow of the hugely popular P.T. Thomas, the Congress veteran whose death forced the byelection that the Left Front saw as its chance to take its  tally to 100 in the 140-member Assembly.

Initially, speculation was rife that a youth leader who has been stoutly defending the controversial K-Rail, a proposed semi-speed rail project,  would be fielded by the CPM in the seat. Apparently, that idea was dropped because the party did not want the election to be construed as a referendum on K-Rail.

The CPM’s choice of Joseph led to allegations that the party treated Thrikkakara as a “payment seat,” implying that the ticket was sold. But the party is insisting that Joseph’s was the only name considered for the seat.

The Opposition and its supporters have leveraged a picture of Joseph sitting along with a Christian priest while addressing the media  on Thursday soon after his name was announced. The Opposition feels the picture is proof that he is a candidate of the church.

But Kerala law minister and CPM central committee member P. Rajeev said the priest was on the dais as the director of the hospital and not as a clergyman representing any church.

Rajeev dismissed the “payment seat” allegation. “We can only dismiss such allegations with utter contempt. It only proves the fear and shock in the UDF camp,” said the minister. “We went for the candidate with the best winning chance and nothing else.”

 Several undercurrents are at play in the seat which has a considerable number of Christian voters who were once counted as traditional Congress supporters.

 But the so-called Christian vote has been witnessing some tumult of late, marked by efforts by sections of the Church to criticise Muslims and echo language usually associated with the Sangh parivar.

 The disquiet within the Church has fuelled speculation that some sections may not be averse to tilting towards the BJP and away from both the CPM and the Congress that are seen as “appeasing” the Muslims.

The recent arrest of a motor-mouth politician, who happens to be Christian, for making inflammatory comments against Muslims was used to portray the CPM as anti-Christian although large sections of the community  are believed to have voted for the Left in the last Assembly elections because of an alliance with a regional party influential among Christians.

An X-factor is about to be added to this cauldron: the Aam Aadmi Party is said to be poised to field a candidate in the bypoll, probably aided by an apolitical party associated with a corporate group.

If the Christians rally behind the Left because of Joseph and the proposed AAP candidate eats into the anti-Left vote, it can cause anxious moments for the Congress that has uncharacteristically announced Uma’s candidature first and without much hesitation.

Joseph is a member of the pro-Left Progressive Doctors’ Forum and hails from a CPM family. Apart from being a doctor, he is a well-known social worker who was on the ground during the 2018 floods, reaching out to the victims, and then the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shortly after the CPM named him, Joseph said his candidature was not because of the intervention of the Catholic Church as was alleged. “I am not a candidate because of my community and the allegation that I am a nominee of the Church is baseless,” he said.

Leader of the opposition V.D. Satheesan on Friday questioned the reason behind the LDF picking a Christian candidate.

“Journalists should find out if there is a connection between the arrest of P.C. George and picking this candidate,” he said, implying the LDF government was trying to control the damage caused by arresting the former UDF ally for the anti-Muslim hate speech.

The foul-mouthed George has confirmed he will be campaigning for the BJP in Thrikkakara.

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