Sabarimala temple slap in BJP face
The ruling Left Democratic Front in Kerala won two Assembly bypolls on Thursday, one of them at the epicentre of the battle over entry of women into the Sabarimala temple, in a show all the more impressive after the drubbing it got in the parliamentary elections this summer.
The Congress-led opposition United Democratic Front won three of the five seats where bypolls were held on Monday, retaining two and wresting one from the Left.
The BJP drew a blank despite fielding its powerful general secretary K. Surendran, the face of the Sabarimala agitation.
The seats had fallen vacant after four sitting MLAs were elected to the Lok Sabha. One seat, Manjeshwar in Kasaragod, fell vacant following the death of UDF MLA P.B. Abdul Razak last year.
“These results are an expression of our secularism and a clear sign that our people will not toe the line of communal ideology,” chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.
The CPM leader called it a “mandate for the LDF rule” in the state.
The LDF won the Konni Assembly seat in Pathanamthitta, the ground zero of last year’s bruising battle over allowing women into the revered Swami Ayyappan temple in Sabarimala.
The Supreme Court had allowed women of childbearing age to enter the temple to the “celibate” god Ayyappan, scrapping a century-old tradition, and the BJP had launched a massive agitation against the state government’s decision to enforce the September 2018 judgment.
The Congress too had waded into the controversy, party leader Ramesh Chennithala promising a law to “protect the customs and practices of Sabarimala” if the UDF was voted to power in the next state elections.
That didn’t stop the CPM’s K.U. Jenish Kumar, who polled 54,099 votes, from winning the Konni seat by a margin of 9,953 votes against his nearest rival, P. Mohanraj of the UDF.
The seat had fallen vacant after the Congress’s Adoor Prakash was elected to the Lok Sabha.
Surendran, the BJP’s candidate, polled 39,786 votes.
Another feather in the LDF’s cap came from Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram, a seat the UDF had held for 23 years.
V.K. Prashanth, the hugely popular mayor of Thiruvananthapuram, polled 54,830 votes as the CPM romped home by a margin of 14,465 in the seat vacated by the Congress’s K. Muralidharan, now a Lok Sabha MP.
Prashanth defeated K. Mohankumar of the UDF, his nearest rival.
The CPM had fielded Prashanth taking into account his popularity as a mayor lauded for his flood-relief efforts in recent months.
The Left’s victories came months after the summer debacle when the ruling alliance won just one of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the UDF sweeping the rest.
The Left, however, lost its pocket borough of Aroor in Alappuzha to the UDF by a slender margin in what turned out to be the fight of the day.
The UDF retained Ernakulam and Manjeshwar in Kasaragod but the toast of the day, as far as the bloc was concerned, was Shanimol Usman, who wrested the CPM bastion of Aroor after 13 years.
Shanimol, who had lost from Alappuzha in the parliamentary elections to the LDF’s lone winner, A.M. Arif, surprised everyone although the victory margin was just 2,079 votes.
Shanimol polled 69,356, defeating the LDF’s Manu C. Pulickal.
The UDF retained Manjeshwar, with M.C. Kamaruddin of the Indian Union Muslim League winning by 7,923 votes. He polled 65,407 votes.
It was the only place where the BJP finished second, with Ravish Thantri Kuntar polling 57,484 votes.
The CPM’s gamble of fielding M. Shankar Rai Master from the dominant Bunt community backfired as he polled only 38,233 votes.
The LDF gave the UDF a scare in Ernakulam before Congress candidate T.J. Vinod pulled past LDF-backed Independent Manu Roy by 3,750 votes.
Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, said the party could explain its loss in two key seats after a study. “We have to do an in-depth analysis before telling you what really happened,” he told reporters.