UDF’s Chandy Oommen wins Puthupally bypoll in Kerala, deals severe blow to ruling CPI(M)

Kottayam: Dealing a crushing blow to Kerala’s ruling LDF, Congress candidate Chandy Oommen on Friday retained for the party-led UDF, the Puthuppally assembly seat, which his father and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy held for over half-a-century.

Chandy Oommen trounced his main rival Jaick C Thomas of CPI(M) by a huge and historic margin in the bypoll. The 37-year-old Oommen defeated Thomas by a margin of 37,719 votes in the bypoll battle that saw a nearly month-long vigorous campaigning by leaders of the Congress, CPI(M), and BJP for their respective party candidates.

While Oommen gathered 80,144 votes, Thomas could get only 42,425 votes.

Though the BJP leadership exuded confidence of a good show in the politically significant bypoll, the saffron party could not feature prominently in the contest.

BJP candidate Lijin Lal finished a distant third, falling behind the LDF contestant by gathering a total of 6,558 votes.

Analysts agreed that the outcome was on expected lines, with the sympathy generated by the demise of his hugely popular father playing out to the advantage of Chandy Oommen.

The contest in the politically hyperactive constituency in Kottayam district assumed added significance as it came just months before the Lok Sabha elections.

Maintaining a clear lead right from the start, Oommen went on to clock one of the state’s highest victory margins. CPI (M) nominee Thomas failed to hold ground even in panchayats controlled by the LDF in the predominantly rural segment.

Oommen Chandy who represented Puthuppally constituency without a break since 1971 died on July 18, necessitating the bypoll.

When an elated Congress described the exciting victory as a clear indication of “anti-incumbency” prevailing in the southern state, the ruling CPI(M) dubbed it a “sympathy wave” following the demise of Oommen Chandy. This is the third consecutive defeat for Thomas in the assembly polls in Puthuppally constituency.

A Central committee member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), 33-year-old Thomas has a history of shocking the Congress leadership by reducing Oommen Chandy’s victory margin to a slender 9,044 votes in the 2021 assembly polls.

But this time, the Congress stalwart’s son outshined him. Oommen even surpassed the record margin of 33,255 votes his father had once secured in the constituency.

Oommen later told reporters that it was not him but Oommen Chandy himself who had won the bypoll by a historic margin.

“This is my Appa’s (father’s) victory. The people of Puthuppally have rubbished all the allegations and campaigns unleashed against him,” Oommen said.

He also visited his father’s tomb at the local church and offered prayers after ensuring his victory.

Thanking the people of Puthuppally for reposing their faith in the Congress, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) said the party candidate’s victory in the key bypoll was a testimony against the “misrule” of the Left government in the state.

KPCC chief K Sudhakaran said this will strengthen the UDF and is a setback for the Left Front.

“People from all political parties voted for us. It is 100 per cent a political victory for Congress-led UDF,” Sudhakaran said.

He said the result was a victory against the “misrule of the Left government”.

“This victory is against the arrogance and autocratic rule of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan,” Sudhakaran alleged.

Despite suffering a huge blow, CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan sought to put up a brave face by claiming that the voter base of LDF in Puthuppally was intact and the win of the UDF candidate was surely on a sympathy wave.

Talking to the media in Thiruvananthapuram soon after the announcement of results, Govindan said the party will consider this defeat as a lesson to be more prepared for the upcoming elections.

“Chandy Oommen himself has said that it is the 13th consecutive victory of Oommen Chandy. That is true, and it was the sympathy vote for Oommen Chandy, who was an MLA there for 53 years,” Govindan said.

He denied any anti-incumbency factor in the polls and said people have evaluated the performance of the government, which is why LDF could hold on to their base in the constituency.

Govindan said the party will analyse the results further and correct its course.

Meanwhile, Chandy Oommen’s mother, Mariamma, sisters Achu and Maria, also expressed happiness about their brother’s impressive victory.

Achu, who faced widespread cyber attacks during the election campaign, said the resounding victory was a reply to those who hunted down Oommen Chandy and his family.

Meanwhile, the BJP said the UDF victory is purely based on the sympathy wave in favour of Oommen Chandy and also a result of anti-incumbency sentiment against the Left government.

BJP state president K Surendran said the decline in party’s votes compared to the last assembly elections was because of the people’s wish to give a fitting reply to the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government.

Talking to the media at the BJP state headquarters here, Surendran said the UDF camp could effectively ‘manage’ the situation prevailing in the constituency after the demise of Oommen Chandy and win by a considerable margin.

“Oommen Chandy was a tall leader of Congress who was an MLA in the constituency for 53 consecutive years. So there was a sympathy wave. In addition, people were unhappy about the present state government, and took this opportunity to teach them a lesson,” he said.

Surendran ridiculed the CPI(M) state secretary’s comment about the reduction in the BJP’s vote bank.

“He should first check for the over 15,000 votes that have gone from their account,” Surendran said.

He said BJP will analyse the poll results deeply to see what resulted in the party losing over 5,000 votes in this election compared to the 2021 elections.

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