The defeat of the Kerala Congress (M) in the Pala Assembly byelection has come as a major set back for the United Democratic Front (UDF) and might change the course of politics in Central Travancore which has always been one of the bastions of the Opposition coalition.
The victory of Nationalist Congress Party candidate Mani C. Kappan could be termed as comprehensive in a constituency that had been a virtual citadel of the Kerala Congress (M) leader K.M. Mani for 54 long years, providing him the firm base to wade through the difficult waters of Kerala’s bipolar politics.
Mr. Kappan apparently was benefited by the long drawn power struggle in the Kerala Congress (M) after the death of its iconic leader, some thing that continued right into polling day. No party with such multiple problems can hope to survive any electoral test and the resentment of the Kerala Congress rank and file could be seen in those stronghold panchayats that went along with Mr. Kappan.
Mr. Kappan who could not make a dent in Pala’s preferences in previous Assembly elections, proved to be right in his assessment that he would make a break through in the absence of K.M. Mani. His victory brings a big relief to the LDF, which had been under pressure since the Lok Sabha drubbing it got.
The Kerala Congress (M) has only to blame its own leaders for the defeat. For Jose K. Mani, it is a personal set back and would bring him more worries in the next round of power struggle. It would take longer time for him to come to terms of the fact that the Kerala Congress(M) candidate Jose Tom Pulikkunnel fell behind his nearest rival in some of local bodies that have always stood by the party.
His attempts to wrest the leadership appears to have backfired and has proved he was no match to P.J. Joseph, whose secured a vice-like grip on the party affairs by taking advantage of technicalities as against political positioning.
The Pala verdict has virtually shaken the confidence of the Congress party, no matter the brave face put up by its leaders, who firmly believed that the political trend of the Lok Sabha elections will see them through. Its election campaign in the byelections could be a difficult run, putting more pressure on the party leadership.