The electoral fortunes of the Congress in Kerala depend on, among other things, how best the party can overcome groupism and the constant feuding among its leaders. That’s exactly why the October 21 by-elections to five Assembly seats in the state will once again test the unity of the party. After the Congress-led UDF’s impressive show in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there should not have been any doubt as to who among the two main political fronts in the state has an edge. But then, Pala happened. A sure-shot Assembly seat for the UDF was lost in the bypoll due to a combination of factors, and factional tussle was one among them. And the many fights within are now threatening to derail the Congress party’s efforts to win the upcoming bypolls.
Though there are many groups, the Congress in Kerala is made up of two major factions—unofficially named ‘I’ and ‘A’, and almost equally strong. There is a constant tussle between the two to gain an upper hand over the other and seize control of the party. It’s this tussle that’s playing out in three of the four constituencies where the party has fielded candidates. The trouble started when the candidates were being selected, with rival factions laying claim to the “winnable” seats. Now, with factionalism seriously hampering the party’s campaign in these seats, there’s a real chance of the rival fronts (Left and NDA) seizing the momentum and doing a Pala in Konni and Vattiyoorkavu—two seats won by the Congress in 2016.
The fact is the UDF has already gifted the rival LDF an unexpected win in Pala. What it can’t afford is repeating the blunder in other seats. If the Congress was hoping to keep up the momentum of the general elections till the 2021 Assembly polls, what’s happening is certainly not encouraging from the party’s perspective. With even the BJP fancying its chances in at least three of the constituencies going to polls, the Congress has a real battle ahead. To win, the Congress must contain factionalism and make various groups and their leaders work together for the party’s success.