Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was all smiles when KS Sabarinathan, a 31-year-old management graduate and son of late Congress leader G Karthikeyan, emerged victorious in the Aruvikkara bypoll with a margin of 10,128 votes on Tuesday. The triumph of Sabarinathan, who fought on a UDF ticket, has come as a big relief for Chandy as the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) was reeling under various corruption charges. The victory has also put Chandy in a strong position in the UDF as he can easily fight the rebels within the party and cling on to power till the Assembly election in the state early next year.
In what was said to be a fierce triangular contest, Sabarinathan came first amassing 56,448 votes while M Vijayakumar of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) came second with 46,320 votes and O Rajagopal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came third with 34,145. Interestingly, None of the Above (NOTA) was in the fourth position with 1,420 votes.
It was a clear domination by Sabarinathan as he lead in all the seven panchayats out of the eight in the Aruvikkara constituency with a clear margin and made his other two rivals eat humble pie. However, the much improved showing by the BJP candidate, O Rajagopal also played a crucial role in the victory of the UDF and a near collapse of the LDF The improved performance of Rajagopal will be a cause of concern for the CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who on the eve of the vote counting day admitted the failure of his party and remarked that the BJP has gained at the expense of the LDF. With an inspired show in Aruvikkara, the BJP has given clear indication that they can now challenge the LDF with confidence in the coming days.
The defeat has cast a long shadow over CPM’s future as the party is currently reeling under inner-party conflicts. The party has not been able to win any of the three bypolls since 2012 and the below average performance during the Lok Sabha election only added to their misery.
The failure calls for serious introspection into the political strategies the party had been devising all these years. Meanwhile, criticising the UDF after the electoral defeat, Balakrishnan said that the UDF had earned the victory through dubious means.
The byelection was necessitated by the demise of Congress leader and Speaker G Karthikeyan in March. The Congress-led UDF has been going through a tough time in Kerala for a while with many of its ministers getting embroiled in various controversies such as Bar Bribery Case and Solar Scam.
Chandy eager to cash in rulon the ‘sympathy factor’ tried to field M T Sulekha, widow of Karthikeyan, to contest from Aruvikkara constituency. However, the ploy did not work as Sulekha refused to contest the election. Then Chandy chose Sabarinathan, Karthikeyan’s son, as the party candidate. The decision was met with criticism from many within the party, but it was clear that he was aiming for a ‘Son Rise’ in Aruvikkara.
With victory as a distant hope, Chandy spent days and nights actively chalking out strategies to win the hearts of the people of Aruvikkara. Now he must be a relieved man as his efforts have paid rich dividends.
By securing a victory of this margin while facing many adversities, Chandy proved yet again to his rivals within the party as well as to the Opposition that he is a seasoned politician, who is very hard to beat. Moreover, the victory would also bail out Chandy and his ministerial colleagues from various corruption allegations and improve the image of his ministry.
Meanwhile, the failure has inflicted a severe blow to the comeback hopes of the CPM. With only months left for the Assembly elections in the state, the CPM had the best opportunity with Aruvikkara bypoll to showcase their potentials. However, the party failed to cash in on the popularity of its leader VS Achuthanandan and utilise their grassroots base to their advantage. This defeat would also be a big setback for the party strongman Pinarayi Vijayan’s chief ministerial aspiration.