The Vengara bypoll in Kerala’s northern Malappuram district did not throw up any surprises as far as the winner is concerned. As expected the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) climbed the “ladder”, the party’s election symbol, to success. However the results have come as a morale booster for the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF). For the first time, the LDF has secured more votes than the margin of victory of the United Democratic Front (UDF) of which the IUML is a key constituent.
But Vengara threw up one big surprise. The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) has done far better than it did last time around. In the 2011 Assembly polls, the SDPI had come third in Vengara, while the BJP-led NDA came fourth. In 2016, the BJP pushed the SDPI to the fourth place. This time around, the SDPI has returned to the third slot.
Formed in 2009, the SDPI is a front for the Popular Front of India (PFI) and claims to represent Muslim and Dalit identity politics. Its constituents are mostly members of the erstwhile National Democratic Front (NDF). Only eight years later, the party has made its presence felt in all the districts of Kerala. It has 49 members in the local bodies.
The SDPI did not contest the Lok Sabha bypoll in April 2017 held after the death of sitting member E Ahmed. The party’s vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha election was two percent of the total votes polled in the state. But the SDPI’s vote share in the 2016 Assembly election is less than one percent.
While the main tussle at Vengara was between the UDF and the LDF, political observers were keenly watching how many votes the BJP and the SDPI would secure. Sunday’s results indicate that the two parties have not been able to make any gains.
The NDA campaign which had initially highlighted Modi government’s programmes soon realised that the mounting discontent against the effect of demonetization and GST could affect their electoral fortunes. Changing track, the campaign focused on the rise of jihadi elements in the state and the failures of the Pinarayi Vijayan government. The results show that the shrill campaign has not helped the BJP in any manner. In fact the tally shows that the party’s votes have steadily dipped.
Despite claiming to champion the cause of Muslims, SDPI also could not match up to the votes it secured in 2014. Opposing the former IUML stalwart and Miinister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed in the 2014 Lok sabha polls, Nazeerudin Elamaram of the SDPI had secured 9,058 votes from the Vengara Assembly constituency in that election. In contrast, the SDPI, despite fielding KC Nazir, the lawyer who is representing Sheffin Jahan in the Hadiya case, could win only 8,648 votes in this by poll.
But SDPI has been able to increase its votes when compared to the previous two Assembly elections. In the first Assembly poll in 2011, SDPI’s Abdul Majeed Faizi came third with 4,683 votes while BJP’s Subramanian came fourth with 3417 votes.
In the 2016 Assembly polls, the BJP’s Ali Haji secured 7,055 votes and pushed SDPI’s Kallan Aboobacker to the fourth slot. Aboobacker could get only 3,049 votes. Party sources had then said the poor show was because of the presence of two other parties which represented the SDPI’s main constituency. The Welfare Party’s Surendran Karipuzha had won 1864 votes while PDP’s Zubair Swabahi got 1472 votes. It was argued that a good percentage of the votes cornered by these two parties could have otherwise come to SDPI.
The Welfare Party is backed by Jamaat-e- Islami while PDP was floated by Abdul Nasser Madany. PDP’s fortunes have tanked ever since Madany has been in prison.
The SDPI has not been able to properly drive home its main campaign plank that both the ruling LDF and the Congress led UDF is adopting a soft approach to the RSS and the Sangh Parivar. But a share of the 8,648 votes it got in this by election could be from an electorate disenchanted by the two major political fronts in the state.
The SDPI’s campaign had highlighted the Kodinhi Faisal murder, the Hadiya case, beef ban, the murderous attack on Mohammed Akhlaq and Junaid and even the disappearance of JNU student Najeeb. Despite a high decibel campaign, the SDPI could not get past the 9,000 mark. The Welfare Party and PDP which did not field any candidates in this byelection had told its supporters to vote according to their conscience. The rumblings in the IUML and the opposition to the candidature of KNA Khader should have also worked in favour of SDPI. However observers feel that SDPI has not been able to take advantage of the current political situation.
The polling percentage in Vengara in this bypoll has risen to 72.12. However IUML’s KNA Khader’s votes dipped to 65,227. In 2016 PK Kunhalikutty who contested the Assembly polls from this constituency had got 72,181 votes. IUML’s victory margin of 38,057 in 2016 narrowed down to 23,310 in this by election which was held after 17 months. The difference of 14,747 votes however has not reflected in the tally of SDPI. The only saving grace for the SDPI in this by poll is that it could recapture the third slot from the BJP.