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Puthuppally bypoll: In late Oommen Chandy turf, Congress records historic win; CPM tries hard, fails big

Congress candidate Chandy Oommen recorded a massive victory in the by-election held for the Puthuppally Assembly seat in Kerala held by his late father continuously for 53 years, laying to waste the CPI(M)’s high-decibel campaign and shrinking the BJP.

Riding on the emotional attachment Puthuppally had for his father and former chief minister Oommen Chandy, and cashing in on anti-Pinarayi Vijayan government sentiments, the 37-year-old got 61.38% of the votes. His victory margin of 37,719 votes was more than Chandy Sr’s all-time high margin of 33,255 in the 2011 Assembly elections.

congress celebrations Congress party members take to streets to celebrate as early trend suggested Chandy Oommen’s victory

CPI(M) candidate Jaick C Thomas, who had contested against Chandy Sr in 2016 and 2021 and reduced the latter’s victory margin to only 9,000, got 32.49% of the votes. The BJP’s G Lijin Lal was a distant third, with just 5.02% of the votes.

Addressing the media after his win, Chandy Oommen described it as his father’s “13th victory” (Chandy Sr had won 12 Assembly elections from Puthuppally). “My father had been a member of every family in Puthuppally. He was a father, a brother, a son for the people. I will be here for all of you as my father had been. This is the victory of the people who loved my father. The care and development which my father bestowed upon you will continue.”

Bypoll Results 2023 | liveFollow live updates here

With the CPI(M) campaign focused around the theme of lack of development in the Puthuppally seat, long held by the Congress, Chandy said: “There will be continuity in development. My victory is a fitting reply to all those who hunted my father.”

From the start of counting, there was little doubt about the results, with Chandy maintaining a clear lead in all rounds. The CPI(M)’s Thomas finished with a lead, that too narrow, only in one out of the 182 booths in the constituency, notwithstanding the fact that the CPI(M)-led LDF controls six of the eight panchayats in Puthuppally.

Despite the parties being partners in the INDIA alliance, and despite the seat being the turf of a much-loved Congress leader, the CPI(M) had gone all in for the campaign, with the CM himself leading the fight and projecting it as a referendum on his government. The party believed that Chandy Sr’s death had made it a level-playing field.

The CPI(M) was also counting on Thomas being a familiar face in the seat, and on its new-found alliance with the Kerala Congress (M), a local party with Christian support that has some sway in the constituency.

Ramesh Chennithala Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala along with party members keenly track bypoll results

Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala along with party members keenly track bypoll resultsThe Puthuppally loss is the second bypoll setback for the CPI(M) since 2021. Last year, the Congress had retained its Thrikkakara Assembly seat in a by-election.

If the CPI(M) banked on Pinarayi, the Congress was confident of the goodwill for Chandy Sr helping his son. The Chandy family also pitched in, calling the by-election a fitting farewell to the late Congress leader, who died barely two months back.

Congress state president K Sudhakaran said: “This is a political victory for the UDF. No doubt, (Oommen) Chandy remains influential even after his death, but this is a big setback for the CPI(M). We got votes from all sides, including of the CPI(M) and BJP. This is the revenge of the people against the CPI(M) government, which has shattered the economy of the state. It is a slap on the face of Vijayan.”

CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan said the party acknowledges its defeat despite putting up a strong fight. “The sympathy wave (for Chandy Sr) helped the UDF in a big way. BJP votes came down and they too moved to the UDF,” he said.

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The BJP, which saw its vote share in the seat go down from around 8% to 5%, had made its main campaign issue the fact that the CPI(M) and Congress were in a direct fight in the seat, despite their INDIA alliance.

Apart from parking senior leaders in the seat, the BJP had held outreach programmes aimed at the influential Christian community in the constituency. However, the violence in Manipur — which was perceived as Christian Kuki-Zomis suffering at the hands of the majority Hindu Meiteis — is believed to have dampened the party’s efforts at attracting Christian voters at Puthuppally.

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The bypoll held on September 5 saw 72.86% voting, only a slight fall from the 74.84% polling in Puthuppally in the 2021 Assembly elections.

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