After the abysmal performance in the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, the bye-election results, particularly, Pala constituency of Kerala provide a big relief to the Left. The Pala constituency, which has been a Kerala Congress (Mani) stronghold electing late party founder KM Mani for the last 54 years, will now be represented by NCP’s Mani C Kappan of the Left Democratic Front. On the other hand, although CPI(M) failed to wrest the Badharghat seat of Tripura from the BJP, it, however, managed to emerge once again as the main opposition party in the state — pushing the Congress to the third position. No doubt, these results have their own significance in the politics of Kerala and Tripura.

This year in the Lok Sabha polls, Left, particularly CPI(M), had pinned hopes to gain maximum seats from Kerala seeing uncertainty of securing seats from its two earlier strongholds — Tripura and West Bengal. CPI(M)’s worst fears came true in both the states but the big unexpected blow came from Kerala where the party led LDF lost all but one seat. In this scenario, the by-poll of Pala necessitated by the death of KM Mani resulting in factional war within KC(M), was seen by LDF as an opportunity to wrest the enemy’s traditional stronghold — mainly to give itself a breath of life after the huge setback it received in the general polls.

And with Left backed NCP’s win in the KC(M) stronghold, CPI(M) led LDF managed for the time being to take a deep breath of relief. Pala constituency is known as a heartland of Christians — who are the traditional voters of the KC(M) and have been quite averse to the LDF for years. On the other hand, it also has a significant amount of Hindus and interestingly, Sabarimala shrine is only a two hour drive from Pala. It was Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his government’s adamant stand to implement the Supreme Court’s order for entry of women in the holy shrine that cost LDF in a large extent with its major voters — Hindus — moving away from it. In these two contexts, this result has a relief message for the CPI(M).

Also, this prestigious win boosts the morale of the LDF workers ahead of the five assembly by-elections next month — where except Aroor, the rest seats are held by the UDF. It means that these elections would be more crucial for UDF than the LDF and with Pala’s defeat, presently, UDF, which won 19 seats with big margins in the Lok Sabha elections, has received a major jolt ahead of the five more upcoming by-polls. Pala’s result will give jitters to the UDF camp in the campaign as it failed to protect its bastion, despite a perceived anti-incumbency in the state against the Pinarayi led LDF government. Not only this, this defeat may only widen the factional war within the KC(M) with one faction led by Rajya Sabha MP Jose K Mani, also Mani’s son, and the other led by party veteran PJ Joseph. Already, it is clear that factional feud within KC(M) didn’t go well with the electors of Pala. So, despite the setback, if the two factions till continue to engage in this factional war and if this widens more, it may only harm the political prospects of UDF — and in that scenario, LDF can emerge as the political beneficiary.

Also, CPI(M) got a little relief from Badharghat bypoll election of Tripura — where the party managed to push the Congress party in its earlier traditional stronghold to the third position, despite failing to wrest the seat from the BJP. Although, there were no doubts in BJP’s victory given the saffron party’s dominance everywhere in the state since assuming power in 2018. Rather, political analysts were concerned with the scale of BJP’s victory and particularly about the second position. The results put to rest to all the unending speculations about the second position with CPI(M) managing to secure it ultimately.

The by-poll, necessitated by the death of former minister and BJP’s Dilip Sarkar, is important as it provides a picture about the upcoming opposition politics in the state. In the last Lok Sabha election, CPI(M) not only lost the two incumbent seats but was also pushed to the third position securing only 17%, while Congress emerging as the main opposition party in the state by fetching 25% votes. Since then, many have dismissed the party in its earlier stronghold with CPI(M) performing badly in the panchayat elections that followed. However, lately, CPI(M) along with its wings has been trying to regain its base by organising protests attended by former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar along with other top state leaders.

Seems that the street protest tactics of CPI(M) has started to work. BJP secured 44% in the Badharghat constituency while in the Lok Sabha polls, the party got 58%. On the other hand, CPI(M), which got 20% in the general polls, managed to fetch 33% — an increase of 13% votes within just four months. Interestingly, this seat was a Congress seat which won back both in 2008 and 2013 elections — when Left Front registered huge victories in these elections. With the Congress, which has recently witnessed factional war resulting state president and royal scion Pradhyut Kishore Barman resigning from the party, finishing at the third position, the result signals that CPI(M) has started to regain some of its lost strength. Although, its vote share is less than that of 2018 assembly polls.

Obviously, BJP is celebrating its victory. However, interestingly, this time unlike last year’s assembly polls and this year’s Lok Sabha election, the saffron party’s vote share is less than that of the combined share of both CPI(M) and Congress in Badharghat. Not only this, BJP had hoped to win with a bigger margin and that was something not unusual given the party’s dominance in almost every corner of the state. But, BJP won by 9% votes, a comfortable margin but not what the ruling party had expected. And these two reasons — CPI(M) bagging second position and BJP securing less votes than combined votes of CPI(M) and Congress — have given a little relief and seems that the party is intensifying its protest strategy by organising state wide protests and road blocks demanding food, work, employment and restoration of democracy, when the saffron party was busy in celebrating its victory. No doubt, there are no dangers for BJP presently in the state but the by-election signals that the upcoming days may not be comfortable if CPI(M) continues with its state wide protests — as in that case the Left party may completely eclipse the other opposition party — Congress — just as BJP did in the 2018 assembly polls.

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