KASARAGOD: With just two weeks to go for the local body election, the BJP in Kasaragod, it appears, is still in a firefighting mode, suspending members and disbanding its committees because they are either in cahoots with the UDF or the LDF.
The BJP has disbanded the party's East Eleri panchayat committee for not fielding candidates in the local body election. But not only did it not field candidates, but the BJP workers in Kamballur (ward 14) are also openly canvassing for the candidate of the Democratic Development Front (DDF) -- a Congress rebel group. The DDF and the BJP even organised a joint poll convention in the ward. Interestingly, the DDF is contesting the local body elections in East Eleri in alliance with the LDF, and the common rival of all the three fronts in the panchayat is the Congress. The LDF has fielded five candidates and the DDF has fielded 12 candidates in the 16-member panchayat.
From the outside, it may appear the DDF has violated the pre-poll pact by putting up a candidate against the LDF in Kamballur, a ward held by the CPM. But the Congress alleged that by fielding a candidate, the DDF -- with the support of the BJP -- has made the contest a three-cornered fight, eventually helping the LDF. "In Kamballur, the Congress was in direct contest with the LDF. But the DDF fielded a candidate to split the Congress votes and ensure the LDF victory," said Thomas Mathew, the only Congress member to win in East Eleri in 2015. "And the BJP is playing second fiddle to help the LDF's victory," he said.
But if the BJP is facing an allegation of playing along with the LDF in East Eleri, in Bedadka -- a red bastion -- it is accused of joining hands with the UDF to defeat the LDF. On Sunday, the BJP suspended Udma mandalam committee member Madhu Cherippadi from the party after he withdrew his nomination papers at the behest of the Congress and without the BJP's knowledge. The BJP had fielded him in ward no. 11 (Vavadukam) of Bedadka panchayat. The BJP said Madhu's action amounted to a "serious violation" of party discipline.
Fighting to win, ideologies can wait
Notwithstanding the BJP's punitive actions in two instances, there is a pattern in the local body elections where all the three major fronts join hands with one another, according to convenience, to dislodge the dominant party from the local body concerned.
In Nileshwar municipality, the BJP has not fielded 12 wards, where the UDF is the main challenger to the dominant LDF. "We did not field candidates because we are weak there," said BJP district general secretary A Velayudhan.
When asked who the party workers vote for in the wards where it has not fielded candidates, he said: "They can vote according to their conscience".
The argument holds little water considering the BJP has fielding or tried to field candidates in several wards in Madikai panchayat where it has just around 70 to 100 voters. The CPM enjoys a brutal majority in Madikai panchayat and three of its candidates won unopposed because its party workers allegedly threatened proposers of BJP candidates. Unlike Madikai, the UDF has the potential to topple the ruling LDF in Nileshwar, and a little help won't hurt.
Why have truck with rival parties when auto will do
In Panathady panchayat, Congress's booth presidents of Panathur (ward no. 9) and Cherupanathady (ward no. 13) have resigned from their posts and are contesting as rebel candidates.
Rajitha Rajan and K V Joseph said they are disgusted with their party for entering into an understanding with the BJP in the panchayat to defeat the LDF. In 2015, the LDF won 13 of the 15 wards in Panathady.
In a meeting held to discuss the pre-poll understanding, Rajitha and Joseph said, the Youth Congress opposed the move. But the party seniors vetoed the Youth Congress workers. But to maintain the charade and avoid punitive action, the Congress and the BJP leaders are contesting as independent candidates in the panchayat.
K J James, who is the Congress Panathady mandalam vice-president, is contesting as an independent candidate in ward no. 10 (Ariprode). In the 2010-2015 term, James was the vice-president of the panchayat. The BJP has not fielded a candidate against him in Ariprode.
In Panathady, the UDF and the BJP have left little to the imagination. Most of the candidates, backed by the UDF or the BJP, have autorickshaw as their symbols, said G Shajilal, CPM panchayat member in the outgoing board. In 2015, Shajilal managed to defeat the BJP candidate by seven votes in Ward no. 3 (Chammundikkunnu).
"Though the BJP has so many votes in the ward, it has fielded an independent candidate with autorickshaw as the symbol. The Congress candidate is barely campaigning," he said.
The BJP was in the second position also in wards no. 4 (Ottamala) and six (Kallapalli). In Ward No. 4, both the Congress and the BJP have fielded independent candidates with car and autorickshaws as their symbols, respectively.
In ward no. 7 (Nellikkunnu), the BJP has no candidate and the UDF's independent candidate's symbol is an autorickshaw. In Ward no. 8 (Ranipuram), the BJP's independent candidate is contesting under the autorickshaw symbol. It is a sitting ward of the Congress.
The understanding has riled up a section of Congress workers. In Ward 13 (Cherupanathady), the Congress, the BJP, and the CPM have fielded candidates. But Congress's former Cherupanathady booth president K J Joseph and Youth Congress mandalam president Sreekanth are also contesting as independent candidates as a protest against the party.
In Ward 15 (Erinchilamkodu), the BJP's assembly mandalam general secretary is contesting as an independent candidate, and his symbol, too, is an autorickshaw. Kerala Congress (Joseph) has fielded a candidate in the ward.
BJP's Velayudhan and the UDF's district convenor dismissed the allegations of having electoral truck with each other. They said independent candidates choosing autorickshaw as their symbol was a matter of personal choice.
Caste over party in Belloor
The BJP-controlled Belloor is another panchayat where all the three fronts have fielded a substantial number of independent candidates. In the 13-member panchayat, only four LDF candidates are contesting in their party symbols. Nine are contesting as independent candidates.
For the UDF, five candidates are contesting in party symbols and eight candidates are contesting as independent candidates.
Though the BJP is the ruling party, it too has fielded independent candidates. "Unlike other panchayats, here parties field independent candidates because caste is a bigger vote-getter than party symbols," said Purushothaman C V, the vice-president of the outgoing panchayat board. Purushothaman was an independent candidate not backed by any party, but the BJP made him the vice-president.