The results of byelections to 39 local bodies held in Kerala on November 30 has proved to be a damper for the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP, both of which had been leading separate high-profile agitations against the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government on the Sabarimala temple issue for the past few months.
The BJP announced that its ongoing agitation would be intensified from December 3, with the venue being shifted from Sabarimala to the gates of the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. However, the agitation has come under a cloud with reports about intense factionalism breaking out within the party on the very issue.
By winning 21 out of the 39 local body wards, where byelections were held on November 30, the LDF has much to cheer, as its principled position on the issue of entry of women into the Sabarimala temple and on the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict was widely believed to affect its prospects and prove advantageous especially to the BJP. The BJP’s new State president, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, had even called the Sabarimala issue “a golden opportunity” for the party in Kerala, but is now facing intense criticism from his rivals within the party for the poor handling of the Sabarimala agitation.
The UDF won 11 seats and the BJP and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) won two seats each. Two Independent candidates also won. The Kerala Congress (Mani) group, a former UDF ally, defeated a Congress candidate at its sitting seat in Kottayam.
The LDF wrested five seats from the UDF and one from the BJP (Parappukkara in Thrissur district). The two seats the BJP won were both earlier held by the UDF. The LDF lost four seats it held, out of which the UDF won two and the SDPI and an Independent candidate got one each. The LDF increased its majority in all the 21 seats it won. It won five seats each in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts where elections were held, wresting three from the UDF in Ernakulam and one from the BJP in Thrissur.
Since the LDF came to power this is the 13th series of byelections to local bodies it has won a majority of seats continuously.
Both seats won by the BJP were in panchayats in Alappuzha district. But in neighbouring Pathanamthitta district, where the Sabarilmala temple is located, the BJP faced humiliating verdicts. The party got a total of just 12 votes in Kadakkad division of the Pandalam municipality, which had witnessed one of the largest initial gatherings of “devotees” during the Sabarimala agitation. The winner there was a candidate of the Muslim hardline SDPI.
In the Kulasekharapati ward in neighbouring Pattanamthitta municipality, the BJP candidate got only seven votes and the seat was won by an Independent. In Thrippunithura municipality, another venue of strong BJP agitation on the Sabarimala issue, the LDF candidate won the Maramkulangara seat with a majority of 480 votes, wresting it from the UDF. Here, the BJP pushed the Congress to the third position. Similar was the result in Alappuzha, where too the BJP won the two seats that were held by the UDF.