A controversial statement by CPI-M's Idukki district secretary MM Mani has put the LDF on the defensive and their chances of winning the upcoming Neyyatinkara bypoll are rather bleak as of now. Mani scored a virtual self goal when he boasted about how the party had eliminated its political rivals back in the 1980s.
Ironically he said this at a juncture when the CPI-M was under the scanner for its alleged role in the brutal murder of Marxist dissident TP Chandrashekharan on May 4. Even after the arrest of some lower-level functionaries of the party in this connection, the CPI-M continued to claim that they were being falsely implicated in the ghastly crime.
The party alleged that the police were acting on the behest of ministers to ensure a UDF win in Neyyatinkara. Such protestations fell flat when Mani opened his mouth and put his foot in it. CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan tried his best to control the damage.
Recalling how the party had grown by overcoming several attacks over the years, he asserted that they never countered violence with the same. Vijayan also censured Mani for deviating from the party line but no one was convinced by this feeble attempt to disown a virtual admission of planned murders.
The Congress was only too glad to seize the initiative. The public's rising anger over the record inflation and specifically the steepest over petrol price hike, effected on May 23, was threatening to derail the UDF election campaign. The ruling front was anyway not going to find it as easy as they did in the previous bypoll at Piravom where their candidate Anoop Jacob romped home with a record margin.
In order to deflect the people's attention towards the debate on political killings, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy stated that the law will take its course in respect to Mani's sensational disclosure. The police subsequently booked Mani on murder and other charges.However, the furore over his speech does not look like ending any time soon. Relatives of the three unfortunate victims, to whom Mani had referred, have demanded a reinvestigation into the deaths. As far as the ongoing inquiry into Chandrashekharan's murder is concerned, police say that the leads obtained so far point to top CPI-M leaders.
This is just the latest headache for the party. Former CM VS Achuthanandan, who leads a faction full of disgruntled elements, had just days earlier raised the banner of revolt against Vijayan. An exasperated CPI-M central leadership has asked both the warring leaders to avoid stoking the fire for now. One thing is certain the temporary truce will not last after the voters cast their ballots in Neyyatinkara.
With the main Left party firmly on the backfoot, it seems the UDF needs to worry only about the BJP's challenge at the moment. According to observers, it will be a straight fight between R Selvaraj and O Rajagopal. The former whose resignation from the CPI-M necessitated the bypoll in the first place is benefiting from the support of UDF heavyweights.
Apart from Oommen Chandy and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala, two Union ministers Vayalar Ravi and KC Venugopal have been seeking votes for Selvaraj.Rajagopal, who served as minister in the NDA government at the Centre, is confident of doing well. His party has been telling the voters about "the shameful manner in which the Congress gave in to the Muslim League's demand of a fifth ministerial berth in the Kerala cabinet". The BJP hopes that by focusing on the aforementioned appeasement, they can secure the backing of the majority community.
It is difficult to say at present who will emerge victorious in Neyyatinkara, a constituency that is apparently divided along caste lines. Already MM Mani's words have had a significant impact on the entire political discourse in Kerala. It remains to be seen whether they will crucially determine the way people vote on June 2.