Lok Sabha election 2019: Sabarimala, Rahul Gandhi’s Wayanad entry change poll m…

The stakes are high for all the three major players in Kerala, the ruling LDF, Congress-led opposition UDF and BJP-led NDA, when all the 20 parliamentary constituencies of the southern state vote in the third phase of Lok Sabha election 2019 on Tuesday.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s sudden entry in Wayanad, his second constituency besides Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, along with the emotional Sabarimala temple issue have changed the political equations in the state.

Read: All you need to know about Lok Sabha elections 2019

For the first time in the history of Kerala, at least half of the 20 Lok Sabha seats are witnessing a tough three-cornered contest. It was always a bipolar contest between the UDF and LDF in Kerala but this time the BJP, an also-ran in state politics till recently, powered by the Sabarimala controversy is posing a challenge to both.

Already reeling under the impact of Sabarimala controversy, problems of the CPI(M) grew with the announcement of Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad. It was evident from the outbursts of its leaders, including that of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

“It seems Left parties are his main enemy, not the BJP,” he said about the Congress president.

Read: After Rahul’s entry, Wayanad hopes for better opportunities, end of hate politics

The CPI(M) had taken a calculated risk on Sabarimala. At one point, the party’s state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said if the CPI(M) loses one or two seats due to its consistent position on Sabarimala it won’t matter and will help it in the long run.

The left party seems to have calculated that the majority votes will split between the Congress and BJP and it will have a consolidation of the minorities – Muslims and Christians form 45% of the population and its traditional support base. But with Rahul Gandhi’s entry, the minority consolidation seems to have shifted towards the Congress in a big way upsetting the CPI(M) applecart.

“No doubt, Rahul’s entry will have a ripple effect in all the 20 seats,” said Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala.

Read: All you need to know about Kerala

The hurry with which the LDF government tried to implement the Supreme Court’s September 2018 verdict, which allowed women of all ages to worship at the hilltop temple, angered a large section of the Hindu community, but the left parties swear it is a minor irritant and won’t affect its prospects.

But the situation on the ground is quite different as most of the pre-poll surveys have predicted at least half of the present tally to the LDF, Out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats, the United Democratic Front has 12 and Left Democratic Front eight.

While the Sabarimala issue is likely to affect the Left’s prospects in south and central Kerala, the recurring political murders will impact it in north Kerala as well.

Read: After Sabarimala stir, BJP eyes temple route for votes

The twin murders of two Youth Congress activists, Kripesh and Sharth Lal, two months ago are still hounding the party. The party is finding difficult to explain its position vis-à-vis politics of intolerance with the candidature of Kannur strongman P Jayarajan, who is an accused in two murder cases.

Desperate to break the bipolar polity of the state, the BJP thinks the Sabarimala issue is a milch cow. Its state president PS Sreedharan Pillai went on record saying “it was a golden opportunity and the party will use it to its hilt.” Sabarimala has turned another Ram temple issue in the south and all its leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have talked about it time and again.

The Nair Service Society, a social outfit of the influential Nair community, usually keeps an equidistance from political parties but this time it is on the forefront of the Sabarimala issue and the BJP feels that its camaraderie with NSS will help it politically. After the announcement of 10% reservation to economically weaker sections of the upper castes, NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair wrote a letter to PM Modi thanking him.

“The NSS stand gives us much hope,” said party general secretary K Surendran who is the candidate in Pathanamthitta where the famed temple is situated.

At least in two constituencies, Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta, the party is giving a tough fight to incumbents.

First Published: Apr 22, 2019 18:29 IST

Updated: April 22, 2019 — 7:17 pm