Thrikkakara’s Thumping Bypoll Win Buoys Kerala Congress, But Will It Put Brakes on SilverLine?

Congress candidate Uma Thomas has won the Thrikkakara by-election in Kerala by a record margin of 25,000 votes in results declared on Friday, following a high-voltage campaign in the assembly constituency. The opposition will now be raising the issue of the controversial SilverLine project against the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) with more vigour, claiming that the election result is a vindication of the stand against the semi-high-speed rail line.

Thrikkakara is a Congress bastion and the bypoll was prompted by the death of senior party leader PT Thomas. His wife Uma Thomas then became the Congress candidate for the seat. Though the constituency has been with the Congress, the party faced a tough fight from the LDF with ministers and the chief minister himself campaigning for the Left, and the Congress too canvassing aggressively.

This victory will give confidence to Congress workers as it comes at a time when they are facing several electoral debacles. This bypoll was a litmus test for opposition leader VD Satheesan as well. This was the first election after he took over as opposition leader and K Sudhakaran was appointed as Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president. On the ground, there was teamwork and a sustained coordinated effort by the Congress to win.

Satheesan said that this result is just the beginning and the party’s state unit has much work to do without rest.

“I am seeing this election result as an energy…we have to work hard to repeat this victory across the state. CM, 20 ministers, and 60 MLAs camped and did campaigning in the constituency but they couldn’t make a change among people.”

Satheeshan added that during the campaign, the LDF had said that the election result will be a recognition of the development activities and for SilverLine. He said that the government should drop the project and see this result as a warning by the people.

The big question is will chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan reconsider the SilverLine project. By the response so far from the Left front, that doesn’t seem to be the case. CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the poll result cannot be seen as a referendum on the project as this was just a by-election confined to one constituency. Balakrishnan also said that compared to the 2021 elections, the LDF had increased its votes by about 2,500.

Thrikkakara is a constituency with a sizable Christian population. The LDF bringing in Dr Jo Joseph as its candidate was seen as a move prompted by this reason.

Former minister and Congress leader KV Thomas also said that he supported the LDF candidate and even came to his convention venue. The CPI(M) had eyed the Christian votes as Thomas is from the community and enjoys popularity. But all this was in vain as Uma won with a record margin. Following the result announcement, there were protests by Congress workers against KV Thomas.

For the BJP, even after state leader AN Radhakrishnan contested from the seat, its votes plummeted compared to the 2021 assembly polls. Last year, the BJP candidate had secured 15,483 votes, but this time that figure dropped to 12,957. It was during the election campaign that Kerala Janapaksham (Secular) leader PC George was arrested for his alleged hate speech. The BJP had come out in his support and had said that the former MLA was being targeted by the state government. George also campaigned for the BJP candidate on the last day, but this did not help the party.

Political analyst J Prabhash said that the election outcome shows that the kind of development politics put forward by the LDF government was not accepted by the people of Thrikkakara. “The arrogance with which the government was behaving was also not accepted by the people. The attitude was that come what may, we will implement the project. The government thought that a high-voltage campaign would secure it votes,” he said.

Prabhash added that Uma and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) emerged as the underdogs and a huge majority who saw them as such voted for her. The sympathy factor also played its part.

“Polarisation politics won’t sell in Kerala,” he said. “Unless the BJP realises that, its vote share will be like this. This also shows that PC George does not have much influence within the Christian community.”

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