The Assembly election by poll for Thrikkakara was held in the last week of May and the result came out in the early week of June.1 The result shocked all the political parties as the outcome differed from what was expected. It was not the result of who won that was shocking, but rather the details and extent of the result. This was the first by-poll after the new government came into power in 2021.2 Thus, it received massive political attention as well as media coverage. Therefore, this election will have a widespread impact on Kerala politics in the coming months and years.
Thrikkakara, ever since its formation out of the Thripunthara constituency has been a Congress fortress. It is one of the few 100% urban constituencies in the entire state.3 This seat has been home to stalwart Congress leader late P. T. Thomas who has served two times as the MLA.4 Following his demise, a by poll was announced and in the end, his wife Uma Thomas came victorious from the same party ticket. What surprisingly happened was the victory margin was 25,000 which was a new record in the constituency.5 The ruling LDF even contested the seat with party symbol with a professional candidate Dr Jo Joseph trying for nothing short of victory. The BJP was hardly able to repeat last year’s performance, despite their very senior state leader A N Radhakrishnan trying his best.6
According to media reports and party sources, this was supposed to be a tight race and even to a realisation that the LDF might bring in a surprise and grab the seat. Even the UDF leaders were so low on confidence that they too reduced their margin of victory. BJP tried their level best to use polarisation by bringing in hate speech accused P. C. George to appease the Christian votes.7 Despite the low turnout, Uma was able to garner a lot of women’s votes, sympathy votes for her husband as well as grab all the anti-incumbency votes. The entire LDF cabinet, ministers and MLAs were camping in the constituency to flip the seat. The UDF was energised like never before to protect its shaky safe seat.
The LDF campaigned by highlighting development, Metro Rail, Water Metro and most importantly the K-rail-Silverline project. The UDF on the other hand tried to bank mostly on the sympathy votes of P. T. Thomas, and anti-Silverline protests. The legacy of P. T. Thomas MLA also received quite an amount of sunshine under the UDF campaign. BJP was solely finding pitfalls in other parties’ campaigns and policies. Both opposition parties were able to highlight the aggression of the LDF on the Silver line project, while showing the government’s inability to extend the Kochi Metro to Thrikkakara.8
Assessing the Impact
The potential impact of the result can be traced back to the campaign and spread to the rest of Kerala. The LDF’s pet project of K-Rail has received a setback and the government’s lethargy on it is quite evident since the campaign started. They were afraid of a public backlash and as expected the LDF will surely go slow on the same. Stopping physical surveys and switching to GPS-based Geotagging is one such example. It is unclear to what extent it will affect the project at large. The LDF will be careful about its future policies and projects and should try to sell them better. Also, they should try to rework their campaign strategies for future elections to conquer current Congress strongholds.
The UDF, despite the victory, has a lot of lessons to learn. There were a lot of defections to the other parties, including notable leaders like K. V. Thomas. Thrikkakara’s result is only temporary relief and so the defections are put on hold. The new leadership has gained some acceptability. The focus should now be on restructuring the party across Kerala, which at present the Congress and the UDF don’t have. Although there is some kind of energy in the Congress workers which is evident from the several protests that are happening across the state. This energy should be better utilised to increase its foothold and regain public confidence. Mere burning of effigies, big banners and rants are not going to be enough.
For parties like the BJP, the progress made through Sabarimala is now falling apart because it is unable to sell anything to the people. It is trying to sell the wrong ideas of Hindu-Muslim hatred, love jihad and even Christian-Muslim hatred through hate mongers like P. C. George. Similarly, parties like the PFI/SDPI are doing more damage to Kerala’s social fabric and politics. How long will Kerala society compromise by supporting BJP and PFI at the cost of its social harmony is another question to ask?
It is often easy to be swayed by the results as well, especially believing that the people are speaking something while actually, they are not. This result is not proof that the LDF is losing across the state and the UDF is gaining back. Better campaigning by the LDF doesn’t mean that the fight was close or that the LDF will steal the show. This by-poll is also not a referendum on the K-Rail-Silverline project. If development is the priority ahead of politics. Then the LDF should go ahead with the project.
This outcome will not change anything in the Kerala Assembly. This result also doesn’t show that Congress is recovering anywhere in Kerala or India, this is only temporary relief to the dying Pan-India party. One single seat is not enough to prove everything and is only a hint, especially if one side has had a traditional advantage over the other. Kerala politics, known for its complexities, will continue to show its brilliance that nothing has changed, yet it will bring a lot of change. Thrikkakara’s result is indeed one that shows democracy is alive, people are the supreme and there is no space for aggression and ego.
Correspondent, Special. “Thrikkakara By-election on May 31.” The Hindu, 3 May 2022,www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/thrikkakara-byelection-on-may-31/article65376309.ece. ↩
Staff, Onmanorama. “Thrikkakara Bypoll Records Lowest Turnout in History, Fate of Candidates Sealed in EVMs | Kerala News | Onmanorama.” OnManorama, 1 June 2022, www.onmanorama.com/news/kerala/2022/05/31/thrikkakara-bypoll-updates.html ↩
M, Arun. “Urban Nature? Thrikkakara Turnout Dipped Because Professionals Stayed Away from Voting…” The New Indian Express, 2 June 2022, www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2022/jun/02/urban-nature-thrikkakara-turnout-dipped-because-professionals-stayed-away-from-voting-2460736.html ↩
Chandran, Cynthia. “Thrikkakara Bypoll: Uma Thomas’ Stunning Victory Catapults Satheesan to Number One Slot in Front…” The New Indian Express, 4 June 2022, www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2022/jun/04/thrikkakara-bypoll-uma-thomas-stunning-victory-catapults-satheesan-to-number-one-slot-in-front-2461522.html ↩
Abraham, Rajesh. “PT Thomas, a Leader Who Stood Relentless in His Battles…” The New Indian Express, 23 Dec. 2021, www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2021/dec/23/pt-thomas-a-leader-who-stood-relentless-in-his-battles-2398671.html ↩
Philip, Shaju. “Kerala Bypoll: Congress’s Uma Thomas Wins Thrikkakara Assembly Seat by over 25k Votes, LDF Fails to Hit 100.” The Indian Express, 3 June 2022, www. indianexpress.com/article/cities/thiruvananthapuram/thrikkakara-assembly-bypoll-result-congress-uma-thomas-7950596 ↩
Pti. “P C George Lashes out at Kerala CM, Campaigns for BJP in Thrikkakara by-Poll.” The Indian Express, 29 May 2022, indianexpress.com/article/cities/thiruvananthapuram/p-c-george-lashes-out-at-kerala-cm-campaigns-for-bjp-in-thrikkakara-by-poll-7942651 ↩
Mohapatra, Samhati. “Thrikkakara By-Poll: Jolt to Pinarayi and Left; Silver Lining for Congress.” The Federal, 4 June 2022, thefederal.com/analysis/thrikkakara-by-poll-jolt-to-pinarayi-and-left-silver-lining-for-congress. ↩