Wayanad: Left, BJP hopes to prick Rahul’s ‘balloon’

It is probably the only constituency in India where one cannot see Congress flags flutter at any party convention even though its candidate is none other than Rahul Gandhi.
Wayanad: Left, BJP hopes to prick Rahul’s ‘balloon’
Illustration: Mandar Pardikar

KOCHI: Wayanad offers an interesting paradox. It is probably the only constituency in India where one cannot see Congress flags flutter at any party convention even though its candidate is none other than Rahul Gandhi.

It is also one constituency in Kerala where nobody is unsure of who the winner would be. And in this paradox lies the story of this picturesque constituency, considered the “safest Congress seat” in the country.

Clearly, bitter lessons the party learnt in 2019, when Rahul contested from Wayanad for the first time, prompted the Congress to avoid its own, as well as ally IUML’s, flags this time.

That Rahul took refuge in Wayanad, where the Muslim League calls the shots, was something the BJP had gone to town with in 2019. Visuals of Rahul campaigning amid a sea of League flags went viral. And that had seriously impacted the Congress’ fortunes in north India.

Wayanad: Left, BJP hopes to prick Rahul’s ‘balloon’
No flags will be used in Rahul Gandhi's poll campaign in Wayanad: M M Hassan

The Congress, hence, has been extremely careful this time. Instead of flags, it has been using balloons – in shades of saffron, green and white.

It is the demography of Wayanad constituency – Muslims form 35% of population and Christians 13% – that makes it a safe bet for the Congress. Rahul had won with a margin of 4,31,770 votes in 2019, a record in Kerala. Despite the desperate efforts of the Congress to underplay the ‘Muslim connection’, the BJP has not allowed it to go unnoticed. Every top BJP leader who came to Wayanad made it a point to take a dig at Rahul for contesting from a place “where the majority is in minority”.

Though there is no hype around Rahul’s candidature this time compared with 2019, ironically, it is this same factor, which the BJP has been harping on, that will help him this time as well.

Wayanad: Left, BJP hopes to prick Rahul’s ‘balloon’
Decoding Rahul Gandhi's face-off against Annie Raja in Wayanad and what it says about the India bloc

If there was someone who had ardently hoped that Rahul would not be contesting from Wayanad this time, it would be Annie Raja. A feisty face of the CPI – and also a close friend of Rahul – Annie was the first to hit the campaign trail.

Her name was announced at a time when there was speculation that Rahul would not be contesting from Wayanad, as there was stiff opposition from the CPM and the CPI against him running against an INDIA bloc ally.

However, the state Congress unit relentlessly pleaded with Rahul to contest again from the same constituency. Moreover, the lack of such a sure-shot ‘safe seat’ elsewhere in the country also may have prompted Rahul to choose Wayanad yet again.

‘Gandhi awe factor is no longer visible in Wayanad’

Clearly displeased, the Left has been grumbling over the move ever since.

Annie, though taken aback by Rahul’s candidature, is expected to garner more votes than any previous Left candidate in the constituency because of her national stature and innate ability to connect with people. Her native, religious roots could also work to her advantage – her family was among the early Christian settlers in the high ranges of north Kerala.

Wayanad: Left, BJP hopes to prick Rahul’s ‘balloon’
Kerala: BJP fields its state president Surendran against Rahul Gandhi, CPI's Annie Raja in Wayanad

The candidature of BJP state president K Surendran was a surprise. It has indeed spiced up the fight in Wayanad. That the BJP central leadership decided to field its state president in a constituency where the party has minimal reach – its vote share has never crossed 9% in any of the elections – is still intriguing to many.

Several star campaigners of the BJP– including Union minister Smriti Irani, Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai – arrived in Wayanad to campaign for Surendran. It is another story that these VIP visits were more about Rahul and less about Surendran as all of them used the opportunity to take potshots at the Nehru-Gandhi scion.

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been saying the “Congress shehzada” will lose from Wayanad this time, nobody – not even Surendran – would have realistic expectations of such an outcome. Rahul’s opponents, however, would be eyeing a dip in his victory margin. A moral victory of sorts. And that does not seem unlikely, as the ‘Gandhi awe factor’ is no longer visible in Wayanad.

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