Updated: September 27, 2019 8:18:00 pm
Ending the five-decade-old supremacy of the Kerala Congress (M) in the Pala Assembly constituency in central Kerala, Mani C Kappan, nominated by the ruling LDF, clinched a close victory over his UDF-backed opponent Jose Tom on Friday. The bypoll was necessitated in Pala due to the death of sitting legislator and 13-time MLA KM Mani, the founder-chief of the KC(M) in April this year. Over 71 per cent voters had registered their ballot in the bypoll conducted on September 23.
According to final trends of the Election Commission, Kappan, an NCP leader tied to the LDF, got 54137 votes, followed by Jose Tom who contested as an Independent backed by the UDF with 51194 votes and BJP candidate N Hari with 18044 votes. The NCP leader, who fought the 2006, 2011 and 2016 Assembly elections unsuccessfully against KM Mani, cruised home on his fourth attempt by 2943 votes.
“This is a joint victory of the LDF and its allies. This is an approval of the LDF government’s policies and development projects. This is a result of the campaigning of the chief minister himself and the work conducted on the ground. I thank the voters of Pala in the language of love,” an elated Kappan told reporters at his home in Pala as his victory became imminent.
He also claimed he would have won with a bigger margin had the BJP not traded its votes to the UDF camp. “I had expected a victory with a margin of 10,000 votes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jose K Mani, a senior KC(M) leader and son of KM Mani, conceded defeat and promised that his party will rectify its mistakes.
“We accept the mandate of the people. We will examine the reasons for the defeat. Kerala Congress and the UDF will rectify its mistakes and win back the confidence of the people. Politics is not about fearing defeat and brimming in confidence in a victory,” Mani said. UDF candidate Jose Tom added, “It is God’s will. Victories and defeats are common in an election. I will continue to work for the development of Pala.”
The election result in Pala underscores the fall from grace of the KC(M), which has been locked in a factional feud between Jose K Mani and PJ Joseph, a senior leader, for leadership. The tussle reached a crescendo in early September when Jose Tom, the candidate, had to submit his nomination papers as an Independent with the official party symbol denied to him. For KC(M), Pala is a very important seat that it could not afford to lose. After all, the voters in Pala stood consistently for 54 years in solidarity with KM Mani, its founder-chief. But now, for the first time after the formation of the constituency, Pala has elected a Left-backed MLA.
After the results, Joseph took a swipe at Jose K Mani and said he lacked maturity. “The lack of maturity (of Jose) is a big factor. There were other winnable candidates in the party. If any of them had fought, they could have easily bagged the party symbol too.”
For the Left, reeling from a humiliating drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, the Pala win is a morale-booster. It is significant because the results show it has been able to make inroads into the dominant Catholic community here and more importantly, wrest a seat that has traditionally always voted for the UDF. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and top ministers of the state government had stationed themselves in Pala in the last few days of the campaign, addressing dozens of rallies in favour of its candidate.
For the BJP, a big dent in its vote share was a loss of face. The saffron party, which surprised many by getting over 24000 votes in the 2016 election, lost nearly 6500 votes this time. The party also rejected allegations that it had traded its votes to the UDF.
The fortunes of the LDF, UDF and the BJP in Pala will now set the tone for the bypolls scheduled in five other seats in Kerala on October 21.
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