As the local body elections in Kerala are nearing, all political parties are seeing these as semi-finals for the Assembly elections due in 2021.
Since the past few months, the state’s politics has witnessed several political parties changing their fronts. For instance, this time round, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) seems to be aligning with communal outfits to defeat the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in elections, say some political observers.
Reportedly, the Congress has worked out an electoral understanding with Welfare Party, the political wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, something that the Congress and UDF leadership has been frequently denying.
The buzz in political circles is that there is even a conflict within the Congress over the reported understanding with the Welfare Party as a result of which the Congress leadership has been issuing contradictory statements on the issue. It is said that Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran is opposed to any ‘understanding’ with Welfare Party, while UDF convener MM Hassan is in favour of it.
The Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala, is also reportedly in support of an electoral understanding with Welfare Party. Some Congress, however, are silent but feel that Congress has fallen into a trap laid by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). In many parts of the northern districts in Kerala, the League-Welfare Movement seems to have cornered the Congress.
It is well known that IUML has been trying to establish an understanding with the Welfare Party since long. Even during the Lok Sabha Elections 2019, the IUML leadership reportedly had secret negotiations with Welfare Party leaders. According to reports, IUML thinks that the understanding with Welfare Party would help the party from losing its grip over strongholds. Initially, the Congress leadership was said to be against any ‘understanding’ with the Welfare party, but Hassan, who took over as UDF convener, is said to have held talks with the Emir of Jamaat. Before that, he is said to have held talks with IUML leaders.
However, the national leadership of Congress, is against any such electoral ‘understanding’. AICC general secretary in charge of Kerala, Tariq Anwar, has openly said that there should be no connection with Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Welfare Party has influence only in areas where the Muslim League has significant influence, i.e. in North Kerala. So, in South Kerala, Congress and the UDF are silent about this ‘electoral understanding’, say poltical observers.
There are also reports that the Congress ‘understanding’ with the Welfare Party has not gone down well with many party leaders, many of whom have left the. “The Congress, which is running after the power, would even align with BJP in the near future,” said Sooppi, a Congress leader from Perambra, who left the party, upset over reports of its ‘understanding’ with the Welfare Party and even the Popular Front in the Mannarkkad municipality, Kadampazhipuram, Pudukkode and Vadakkancherry panchayats.
While on the one hand, the Congress is rumoured to have an electoral understanding with the Welfare Party, on the other hand, there are also reports that the arty has some tacit understanding with the Bharatiya Janata Party, in many wards.
According to Malayalam media reports, the BJP has not even fielded candidates in 3,000 wards, including in their strongholds like Kasargod. In Kasargod district alone, in 116 wards, BJP has not fielded candidates, including 12 wards in Nileshwar municipality, 15 divisions in Kasargod municipality, 10 seats in Kanhangad municipality etc .
While discussing these issues in a TV debate, the BJP, represented by Unnikrishnan Master, claimed that they won’t vote for any candidate in these 3,000 seats. He even rubbished media reports on an ‘understanding’ with Congress.
In Palakkad district, BJP has significant presence in the Palakkad municipality. According to M Swaraj, member of state legislative assembly, BJP has not fielded candidates over 400 seats in Palakkad.
As per some reports from Palakkad, unlike BJP claims, Congress has some ‘understanding’ in Vellinezhi, Pookottukavu, Vilayur, Kongad, Kizhakancherry, Kannampra, and Vadakkancherry panchayats, and the municipalities of Pattambi, Chittoor and Thathamangalam. In 395 wards, Congress is perceived to contesting with an apparent agreement with BJP, with both the parties extending support to a common candidate. Interestingly, both BJP and Congress have presented these candidates as their own in their campaign boards.
For instance, in Vellinezhi panchayat, the Congress and the BJP are contesting as a front in all the 11 wards. The Congress has no candidates in wards 2 and 13 where BJP is contesting and the BJP has no candidates in wards 4 and 9 where congress has fielded candidates, say local sources. The Congress and the BJP have fielded separate candidates in wards 6 and 12. Elsewhere, the two parties support common candidates.
In Wayandu, Congress’s Meenangadi Block Secretary Ambika Kellu is contesting as a BJP candidate from Meenangadi division of the District Panchayat. Former Congress constituency president KK Ramachandran is the NDA candidate in the Irulam division of the Panamaram block panchayat. It is such arrangements that are leading to questions being raised about the Congress-led UDF’s secular commitments.