An informal pre-campaign assessment carried out by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee has given the party a jolting wake-up call.
It has found that the Congress could be sure of winning just two seats: Ernakulam and Wayanad.
Near to impossible is the chance of winning five seats - Attingal, Alathur, Chalakudy, Thrissur, and Alappuzha.
In nine other constituencies, the results could go either way. So the preliminary assessment is, at the most, the party can win 11 of the 16 seats it would be contesting.
This random 'mood of the voter' survey has been done on the basis of inputs collected from local party workers in Assembly constituencies in the 16 Lok Sabha seats the Congress would contest.
Circus tent called Congress
Except in Alappuzha, the vote share of the BJP has shown a dramatic surge in the 'unwinnable' constituencies during the 2016 Assembly elections. This is true of Thiruvananthapuram also.
“The Congress party has done nothing in between to alter the situation on the ground. After Sabarimala, the Sangh Parivar has grown in popularity in these areas. To boot, the RSS has a well-oiled local machinery that can rival even the CPM. As for the Congress, booth-level offices are virtually dysfunctional in all these constituencies. We have not tried to revive them even at this stage,” a top Congress leader said.
Another Congress leader Onmanorama talked to compared the Congress organisational machinery to a circus show that occasionally comes to a village. “Our party machinery crumples down once the elections are over just the way a circus tent is pulled down after a season. After a time, like in the case of a circus tent, we won't even know that there was local paarty activity in the area,” he said.
Vishnunath's unenviable position
And among the five 'unwinnable' seats, it is Alappuzha alone that has a Congress MP, K C Venugopal.
However, Venugopal is unlikely to contest this time. Tentatively, P C Vishnunath is being considered to represent Congress this time.
The former Chengannur MLA could not have chosen a more inopportune time to contest.
Sabarimala and economic reservation have thoroughly altered voter preferences in Alappuzha.
“The stand taken by both the SNDP and the NSS would be decisive this time. Unlike in earlier years, when the rank and file behaved independently of community leaders, members are expected to defer to the decision of the leadership. The SNDP will stick with the Left and the NSS, especially after Narendra Modi's decision to grant economic reservation to the forward castes, have shown a clear preference for the NDA,” a Congress leader said.
The best bets
Even among the unpredictable seats, the assessment is that Thiruvananthapuram, Idukki and Palakkad would be the toughest to win.
From Thiruvananthapuram, the feedback is that if the seat has to be retained, sitting MP Shashi Tharoor should be renominated or Rahul Gandhi himself should contest, underscoring the surge the BJP has made in the constituency.
From Idukki, the feedback is that only Oommen Chandy, who has the stature to transcend narrow interests, could wrest the seat from the LDF.
This explains why there is such pressure on Chandy to contest.
As for Palakkad, where the BJP's influence has grown incrementally over the years, the Congress is attempting to spring a surprise.
It might field Venu Rajamony, former diplomat and press secretary to former President Pranab Mukherjee. Local Congressmen hope that Rajamony, because he has the aura of a global personality like Shashi Tharoor, could bring the Hindu votes back to the Congress.
Politics, as the German statesman Otto von Bismarck liked to say, is the art of the possible. The Congress has an ace up its sleeve to do the near impossible in Alathur. Footballer I M Vijayan is said to have almost agreed to contest from the constituency.
Here is the tentative list of Congress candidates in 15 constituencies. Kasaragod is the only constituency where not even a tentative list has been prepared.
Thiruvananthapuram – Shashi Tharoor
Attingal - Adoor Prakash
Pathanamthitta – Anto Antony
Mavelikkara – Kodikkunnil Suresh
Alappuzha – P C Vishnunath
Idukki – Oommen Chandy/Dean Kuriakose
Ernakulam – K V Thomas
Chalakudy – K Babu
Thrissur – Benny Behanan/P C Chacko/T N Prathapan
Palakkad – Venu Rajamony
Vadakara – KSU state president Abhijith/A P Anil Kumar
Kozhikode – M K Raghavan
Kannur - K Sudhakaran
Wayanad – T Siddique/Shanimol Usman
Alathur - I M Vijayan
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