The Congress has no room for complacency

The Congress has no room for complacency

Congress leaders V.D. Satheesan and K.C. Venugopal during a UDF meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on June 20, 2024.
| Photo Credit: PTI

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) delivered an impressive performance in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Kerala. It won 18 seats — just one short of the 19 seats it had won in the 2019 elections — out of the total 20 seats.

In 2019, its success was attributed to the massive protest in Kerala against the Supreme Court order allowing women of all ages to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, as well as the candidacy of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad. This time, the strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), helped the UDF.

In 2019, the Congress leadership believed that the UDF would regain power in the Assembly polls in 2021. They assumed that anti-incumbency against the the LDF government would suffice for the coalition. However, this did not happen, largely because of the party’s complacency.

On the other hand, the LDF won thanks to its various social security measures, its distribution of food kits through ration shops post-COVID-19, and the successful experiment of a rainbow coalition of 11 constituents. The Left made history by winning the 2021 Assembly polls in the State, disrupting the nearly four-decade alternation of power between the LDF and UDF.

Chalking out a plan

Though the Assembly elections are still two years away, the Congress has began to chalk out a plan. The party has announced its national general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, as the candidate for the Wayanad bye-election after her brother, Mr. Gandhi, vacated the seat to retain the Rae Bareli constituency. The bye-election is expected to coincide with the bypolls in the Palakkad and Chelakkara Assembly seats, which were vacated by Shafi Parambil from the Congress and K. Radhakrishnan from the CPI (M), respectively, after their win in the Lok Sabha elections.

The UDF will have to contend not just with its traditional rivals, but also with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance, which has emerged as a formidable force in the Lok Sabha polls by securing 19.25% of the votes and winning the Thrissur constituency.

Watch: BJP’s impact on Congress and CPI(M) in Kerala | Lok Sabha elections 2024

Shaken by its electoral debacle, the CPI(M) has began to carry out corrective measures both within the party and government. These rectifications may prompt Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who has faced criticism for his style of governance, to reshuffle the portfolios in Cabinet and introduce measures to monitor the bureaucracy.

The CPI(M) leadership has realised that its poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections stemmed primarily from the arrogant attitude of its party leaders. Other factors that contributed to its woes were the State’s financial crisis, the LDF’s failure in delivering existing welfare schemes and providing dearness allowance for teachers and government employees, as well as delays in paying lakhs of pensioners.

CPI(M) State unit secretary M.V. Govindan pointed to the influence of capitalist tendencies on party cadres as a factor contributing to the LDF’s defeat. The serious allegations against the Chief Minister and his daughter, the frequent man-animal conflicts, and campus violence made matters worse for the party.


Also read | CPI(M) sacrifices its Rajya Sabha seat aspiration at the altar of LDF unity in Kerala

Moreover, the CPI(M)’s attempt to woo the Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama, a powerful body of Muslim scholars with ties to the Indian Union Muslim League, backfired. It not only failed to yield results but also led to an erosion of Hindu votes, particularly in south Kerala.

The Congress should be equally wary, as the BJP is set to tighten its grip in the State by focusing on 40 of the 140 Assembly seats. The induction of George Kurian from the Syro-Malabar community into the Modi Cabinet will certainly reinforce the BJP’s efforts to appeal to Christians.

Drawing inspiration

It is also crucial for the UDF to recognise that most of its sitting MPs were elected not based on their performance, but as a consequence of a negative vote against the LDF government. The CPI(M) continues to retain a solid vote bank, and the Left ecosystem in Kerala has not withered away. To sustain momentum leading up to the 2026 Assembly polls, the UDF leadership needs to draw inspiration from the INDIA bloc at the national level and assert itself strongly as an opposition to the CPI(M) in Kerala.

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