KALPETTA (Wayanad dist; Kerala): With Congress president Rahul Gandhi filing his nomination papers for the Wayanad amid fanfare on Thursday, a big fight is unfolding for the largely rural and agrarian Lok Sabha seat. There was noticeable euphoria as Rahul Gandhi reached here, accompanied by sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, as also senior Congress leaders including KC Venugopal and Mukul Wasnik. State leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League were at hand to urge Rahul Gandhi on.
The roadshow here, after the Congress leader filed his nominations, was evidently a huge show of the Muslim League supporters and the communal colour was all too obvious.
Rahul Gandhi’s victory in Wayanad is a foregone conclusion, considering the nearly 60 per cent minority presence in the constituency which is set close to the Muslim-strong Malabar region. The constituency abuts the Western Ghats, with a pointed thrust to the east, and at the tri-junction between Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Muslims form nearly half the population, who are largely with the Indian Union Muslim League, IUML, a partner of the Congress-led United Democratic Front. UDF alternates in power for the past several decades, with the CPIM-led Left Democratic Front too stepping in after every five years.
The LDF candidate, PP Suneer, is a Muslim too, but sentiments are such that the Muslims in the constituency would largely back Rahul Gandhi. He is seen by the minorities as the best bet against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP at the Centre. In fact, the enthusiasm among the rank and file, whipped up by the local leadership, is such in the Muslim League that its activists are more prominently involved in the pro-Rahul push even before the Nehru family scion filed his nomination papers. Christians, who have sizeable presence, too is hugely enthused, as they are strong supporters of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress.
Curiously, a pre-poll opinion poll released by Malayala Manorama along with the Karvy group on Wednesday evening demonstrated overwhelming support in Kerala for Rahul Gandhi as next prime minister. While Rahul got some 38 per cent support, PM Narendra Modi was way behind with around 10 per cent. The strong minority presence, overall at 42 per cent in the state, is seen as one reason.
The CPI, part of the LDF and whose candidate PP Suneer is, has substantial support in the constituency, where Muslims form 48 per cent, Christians 11 per cent, and Hindus 41 per cent. Among the Hindus, the backward, numerically strong Ezhava community has some 20 per cent population base in the constituency, while the SC-ST population forms 16 per cent, and forward castes like Nairs about eight per cent.
The BJP is not fielding a candidate in Wayanad, but is fighting the polls in the constituency through the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, a constituent of the NDA. This is essentially a political outfit of the Ezhavas, formed in 2015 to back the BJP from outside. Its nominee, Thushar Vellappally, is a prominent Ezhava leader from the community’s first family based in Alappuzha. He is hoping to consolidate the Hindu votes through the arm of the BJP-led NDA, of which he is the state convener. But this is easier said than done.
Ezhavas are prominently pro-Left through generations, and this is so ever since the 1950s, when the world’s first elected communist government came into power in Kerala (1957-59). Overall, the main support base of the CPIM and CPI in the state is the Hindus – Nairs, Ezhavas and Dalits – a reason why the BJP fails to make inroads into the state. This time, pro-Nair outfit, the Nair Service Society (NSS), has stated in so many words that its support will be for the Congress and the UDF. The NSS is distancing itself from the LDF of late, as it is set against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, an Ezhava. His strong stand in support of the Supreme Court verdict, allowing women entry in the hill-top shrine of Sabarimala, added to the NSS’ hostility to him. Sabarimala, though, will not be a major issue in this polls, as the Manorama survey also noted. Keralites, as a whole, are rather politically charged.
The Wayanad constituency was held by Congressman MI Shahnawaz in the outgoing Lok Sabha, who died some time ago. Despite strong Muslim support, he did not have a big margin of victory. He had polled 41 per cent of the votes, against the candidate of principal rival, CPI, which got 39 per cent. It is here that the LDF is seeing some hope this time too, but what it cannot ignore is the likely stronger consolidation of Muslim and Christian votes this time.