Analysis | IUML leader Kunhalikutty’s return to Kerala politics has hit Congress-led UDF


Move created impression among Hindus, Christians that he was eyeing Deputy CM post

The return of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader P.K. Kunhalikutty to State politics seems to have damaged the electoral prospects of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in several districts in the just-concluded Assembly poll.

The decision created an impression in the majority Hindu community as well as the minority Christian community that Mr. Kunhalikutty was aiming for the post of the Deputy Chief Minister if the Congress-led front came to power in the State. Besides, it triggered an apprehension that the IUML would overwhelm the UDF before long during the five-year tenure.

This time, the party also contested 25 seats and experimented by fielding two independents but could emerge victorious only in 15 segments.

In the 2016 Assembly poll, the IUML contested 24 seats and secured 18 of them. However, the party can take comfort from the fact that its popular vote share increased to 8.27% from 7.4% last time, which can also be ascribed to the increase in number of seats it contested.

For reasons best known to him, Mr. Kunhalikutty quit the Assembly to contest successfully from Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency in 2017 in the bypoll after the seat fell vacant upon the death of senior leader E. Ahamed.

In the Lok Sabha election held in 2019, he stood again and won from the same constituency, aspiring to join the Union Ministry if the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power. But the nation-wide alliance failed to dislodge the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

At the same time, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also played up the anxiety of Mr. Kunhalikutty’s return, goading even an anti-Muslim sentiment among sections of Hindu and Christian electorate.

“This manifestation was seen in constituencies such as Thiruvambadi and Perambra in Kozhikode,” social critic and political commentator Hameed Chennamangaloor said.

Earlier, a controversial Facebook post of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan flaying the Congress party for adopting a subservient role to IUML seemingly reverberated in the election.

“This anti-Muslim sentiment also saw the erosion of the Congress votes in many Assembly segments. A feeling was generated that the party with political clout in Malabar was going to have an upper hand in the State,” Mr. Chennamangaloor said.

An analysis also showed the IUML did not garner the votes the party expected in many constituencies in Malappuram district.

“Young cadre of the party could have been disappointed with a caucus surrounding Mr. Kunhalikutty and securing the support of the Panakkad family. Had Mr. Kunhalikutty waited until the Assembly elections were over, things would have been different. But that is counterfactual thinking,” Mr. Chennamangaloor said.

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