Vengara verdict: Pyrrhic victory for UDF, IUML

P. Sreekumaran

The victory of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) candidate, KNA Khader, in the Vengara by-election was a foregone conclusion. But even the most enthusiastic IUML and United Democratic Front (UDF) activists will concede that it has been a pyrrhic victory, which has grave implications for the party and the UDF, of which IUML is the second most powerful constituent.
There are several reasons why the IUML and the UDF should feel concerned over the verdict. First and foremost is the steep decline in the victory margin. The majority of the IUML candidate has plummeted from an impressive 40,000 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections to just over 23,000 this time around. In other words, the IUML has suffered a loss of over 15,000 votes over the years.
The big drop in the vote share has, understandably, sent shivers down the spine of IUML leaders. The shock of the setback was clear from the body language of party leaders, including IUML national general secretary P K Kunhalkikutty, who had won the assembly elections from the constituency with a margin of over 40,000 votes.
The IUML leaders have every reason to feel extremely worried about the implication of the Vengara verdict. The sharp fall in the victory margin even in Vengara, considered the safest seat for the IUML, bodes ill for the party in its traditional stronghold, the Muslim-majority Malappuram district. It is indicative of a trend – a disturbing one at that – for the IUML. The conclusion is unmistakable: the IUML bastion has been breached. The point to note is that in all the six panchayats, which constitute the Vengara constituency, the majority of the IUML candidate has come down. The task is cut out for the IUML leadership.
The IUML leaders are, of course, putting up a brave front. They are taking refuge behind the plea – a specious one   – that Kunhalikutty had polled more votes because of his personal stature and clout in the party and in the constituency. But that alone does not adequately explain erosion of the IUML’s vote base.
The party has to face the unpleasant realilty: that a significant share of the minority vote has shifted not only to the CPM but also to the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which relegated the BJP to the fourth position. This is a disturbing trend, which shows that a section of IUML voters have been attracted by the extremist ideology being propagated by the SDPI.
Another reason for the drop in IUML vote is the aggressive campaign launched by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) against the Sangh parivar. No doubt, the aggressive campaign cased drift of a sizable section of traditional IUML voters to the LDF camp.
Conversely, the CPM has every reason to feel good. Its vote share has gone up by   8,000 votes: an impressive increase from 34,000 votes in the last assembly elections to over 41, 000 votes in 2017.
The “Janaraksha yatra’ (Save people yatra) undertaken by the RSS-BJP also did the CPM a favour. The singling out of the CPM by the saffron camp had the effect of more minority voters, who see the RSS-BJP combine as the biggest threat, making a beeline for the CPM candidate.
The rise in CPM votes can be attributed to the softening of the attitude of a section of EK Sunnis, traditional supporters of the IUML and the UDF, to the LDF. This must worry the IUML more than anything else. No wonder, the lines on the foreheads of IUML leaders have deepened. 
As for the BJP, the less said the better. The party’s performance is nothing if not pathetic. The BJP leaders had boasted of securing at least 10,000 votes in the run-up to the campaign. In an effort to ensure communal polarization, the party had forced the Janaraksha campaign led by State BJP president, Kummanam Rajashekharn to take a round of Vengara. That, in fact, proved counter-productive with a good chunk of Muslim voters preferring to vote for the CPM candidate. The BJP must realize that its tactic of deepening the communal divide, which had yielded dividends in states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, simply won’t do in a secular state like Kerala. The result: the voters of Vengara heaped humiliation on the BJP candidate, who polled a paltry 5,700 odd votes – an all-time low for the party.
The message from Vengara is loud and clear. The sinister agenda of the Sangh Parivar will not work in Kerala. And the IUML has been given a wake-up call. It simply cannot take the minority voters for granted. Unless it makes adequate amends, the IUML will suffer more humiliation in Malappuram district. (IPA)

Tuesday, 24 October, 2017