Kerala’s corporate Kitex Group’s political arm Twenty20’s decision not to contest the May 31 Thrikkakara assembly bypoll has thrown an intriguing question into the state’s political pot. Where will the 10 per cent of votes that the party polled in the previous election go this time?
Twenty20, which had announced that it would contest the bypoll in alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), backed off citing some strange reasons. Both the parties have decided to stay away from the bypoll saying the result of it, whoever wins or loses, is not going to make any difference in the electoral politics. They said they will be focussing on the bigger picture, meaning bigger polls.
The Thrikkakara bypoll has been necessitated following the death of Congress MLA P T Thomas. The Congress has fielded Thomas’s wife Uma while the CPM has picked noted cardiologist Dr Jo Joseph as its candidate. Senior leader A N Radhakrishnan is the BJP candidate.
Twenty20 proved its strength in the 2021 assembly elections contesting in eight segments in Ernakulam district and polling an aggregate vote share of 14 per cent. In all the eight segments, it played spoilsport for either the Congress-led UDF or CPM-led LDF, splitting the traditional vote bases that supported the two fronts.
In Thrikkakara, Twenty20’s Dr Terry Thomas polled 13,897 votes, 10.18 per cent of the total polled votes. To put things in perspective, the BJP, which came third, could poll only 11.34 per cent of votes.
So the Kitex-backed party’s decision to align with AAP, which is trying to revive its fortunes in Kerala riding on the perception points it has earned with the big win in Punjab, had triggered speculations of the bypoll turning to be a four-pronged contest. That was not to be.
The Twenty20-AAP combine is likely to make its stance on the bypoll clear on May 15 when AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is scheduled to address a rally in Twenty20’s home turf Kizhakkambalam. Even then the party is unlikely to openly support any of the two major fronts as it has been projecting itself as an alternative to the two fronts. However, both the LDF and UDF hope that the Twenty20 votes would fall in their bags this time. Hence their careful statements.
In 2021 polls, the UDF had attacked Twenty20 calling it a B Team of the CPM. P T Thomas was highly critical of the Kitex Group and at the forefront of a fight against the pollution of the Kadambrayar river for which he held the textile company responsible.
However, Kitex apparently has more issues with the CPM now as the company was forced, as it claims, to move out of the state with a series of inspections and complaints against it. Twenty20 has openly come out against CPM’s Kunnathunad MLA P V Sreenijin who, the Kitex believes, has orchestrated the moves against it.
Sreenijin the other day found a conspiracy between Twenty20 and the UDF behind the former’s decision to stay out of the poll fray, but the CPM did not want to entertain such a message going out. So the ruling party brushed aside Sreenijin’s charges as a personal view.
“Every person wants to support a party that would bring development to the constituency. So naturally even the supporters of Twenty20 would vote for LDF this time, CPM state secretariat member M Swaraj told media. The CPM also hopes that a portion of its traditional vote base which went to Twenty20 last time because the Left had fielded an independent candidate would come back to it this time. Dr Jacob is contesting on CPM’s poll symbol.
Twenty20 supremo Sabu M Jacob’s initial remarks after its decision not to contest the bypoll should however worry the CPM. He said the Left government’s ambitious SilverLine project and political violence will be discussed in the bypoll. Jacob has already made it clear that SilverLine, even though high-end infrastructure is needed, should not be the priority in a state where many do not even have basic amenities. By political violence, he was clearly reminding the voters of the murder of Deepu, a worker of Twenty20, allegedly by CPM members in February.
The Congress wants to believe that a major section of the Twenty20 votes would come to the UDF this time. “People who are against the CPM but at the same time believed Congress will not win the election voted for Twenty20 last time. This time, many of those votes will come to UDF because we have a huge chance of winning,” a top Congress leader in the district told Onmanorama.
Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan has already made it clear that neither AAP nor Twenty20 is Congress’ enemy. A look at the voting pattern in 2021 shows that Twenty20 earned its 10 per cent of vote share from across the constituency. That means it would not be possible for the other political parties to identify specific reasons for the shift of those votes to a force they deemed an alternative. Now, with no scope of believing themselves to be the agents of change, they will have to either choose between the traditional forces or stay away from the election. That apparent confusion of the 10 per cent adds some spice to the otherwise insignificant bypoll.