A M Ariff, the only CPM candidate left standing after a mighty UDF sweep, said that he had an inkling of the anti-Modi sentiment earlier on and had fine-tuned his election strategy to turn the gathering storm in his favour.
Ariff also seems to be the only Left leader in the state who had such a foresight. Both chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM general secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had said that the party never anticipated such a huge undercurrent against the BJP that had left the Left also in tatters.
Ariff said that once he got wind of the anti-Modi pulse, there were two things that he stressed in all his stump speeches. “My speeches were not more than five minutes long. But within this capsule, I made it a point to emphasise two things. Even when my campaign team wanted me to rush, I insisted on making these two points,” Ariff said on Monday, during his first media interaction after the victory.
One, Ariff told his voters why it was important to vote for a CPM candidate. “There was a general feeling that even if Left candidates were backed they will not have the numbers to make any difference at the Centre. But I told them that if a non-BJP formation came to power, the Left will always function as a corrective force. We will not allow the Ayodhya temple to be built, and we will do all we can, like in 2004, to block neo-liberal economic policies,” Ariff said.
However, such a strategic positioning of the LDF was not evident anywhere else in the state. The LDF candidates wanted both the BJP and the Congress out. No one spoke about how they would be of use in a non-BJP dispensation. When he was reminded of this, Ariff just said that it could have been because of a lack of time. “We had so many points to cover that we just did not have the time and leisure to communicate all that we wanted,” he said.
The second message that Ariff sought to drive home was that he alone could work smoothly in tandem with the LDF government. “Central schemes are implemented through the State. The Pinarayi government spends a substantial chunk of central funds in Alappuzha. But the earlier MP and the state government were not in sync most of the time and this had impeded development of Alappuzha. I told my voters that I will be better stationed to get the central schemes done through the state government,” he said.
The newly-elected Alappuzha MP also hinted that the Sabarimala issue had forced the party on the back foot. Ariff said that it was a mistake not to have taken the Sabarimala issue head on. “The general feeling was that if we talk about Sabarimala we will lose votes. We should have actually spoken about the issue. We should have told the people why the government had to take the stand it had. People would have understood,” Ariff said. Pinarayi Vijayan's renaissance lieutenants Vellappally Natesan and Punnala Sreekumar, too, had said that the chief minister wanted a halt to 'renaissance work' during the elections.
Ariff said the CPM had no intention to sneak women into Sabarimala, suggesting that such an impression had gained ground. “If that had been the case, the CPM general secretary just had to give a call to women below 40 years in the DYFI and the SFI to visit the hill shrine. No violence could have prevented the women from thronging the shrine,” Ariff said. His argument was that the CPM had failed to convince the people of the CPM's real intentions. He also brushed aside the call for a change in the style of functioning of Pinarayi Vijayan. "Your behaviour cannot be changed overnight. It was with this style that he had secured huge wins for the LDF earlier, including the one in 2016," he said.
Ariff, however, was a tad disappointed that he could not lead in the Aroor segment of Alappuzha. “I was MLA in Aroor for three terms and so was a bit overconfident that people would vote for me even if I don't meet them. Not even once did I go to Aroor to seek votes,” he said. Instead, he concentrated more on Harippad and Karunagappally. “Harippad is the only segment that does not have an LDF MLA. (It is represented by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala). I managed to reduce the UDF's lead in Harippad. I also improved the LDF lead in Karunagappally where there is a strong Muslim concentration,” Ariff added.