(This is a reprint of NewsBred.)
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, in choosing to contest from Wayanad in Kerala, has opened itself to the charge of siding with allegedly Muslim extremist organizations, which could lead a Hindu backlash against him and his party in 2019 general elections.
One of Congress support in Wayanad emanates from Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which in turn is tied up with Jammat-e-Islami and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), both accused by National Investigation Agency (NIA) in conducting arms training camps across the state under the pretense of health-awareness camps. In several police raids in the offices of PFI and SDPI in Kerala, weapons and arms-stockpiling came to light in 2014. As many as 24 accused arrested belonged to these two parties.
Four SDPI activists claimed responsibility for hacking two CPI (M) members at Mangalam, Tirur on January 29, 2014. SDPI's district president had then justified it as an emotional reaction from its members to an attack the CPM effected against one of its members the same morning.
In 2014, SDPI made a private school in South Kerala submit to their demand of removing Vande Mataram from their Independence Day programme. It also made the school drop the Namaste gesture. The SDPI had then claimed that a number of parents had complained against some words in Vande Mataram and the gesture Namaste against their religious beliefs.
CPI(M)state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said on Sunday: "Gandhi is contesting as the candidate of Congress-IUML-Jammat-SDPI. Congress should think whether seeking the support of Muslim extremist organizations would benefit Congress at the national level."
All this trouble of being in league with Muslim extremist organizations looks a still far worse decision given that the Congress victory margin in 2014 in Wayanad was only 20,000 compared tothe over-a-lakh margin in 2009. In the 2016 assembly elections, four of the seven assembly segments in Wayanad were won by the CPI (M). Of the remaining three, only two are in Congress control and one by its ally, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).
Rahul Gandhi clearly wants to ride on the 68-percent share between Muslim (48%) and Christian (20%) voters in Wayanad, which became a Lok Sabha constituency only in 2009--a tacit admission that Hindus en bloc are not going to vote for Congress.
But the ground reality today is markedly different as dissatisfaction against Congress is growing by the day, as reflected in a drop in support on the following counts:
(a) The rural agrarian crisis in Wayanad has reached an alarming proportion. Six farmers have so far committed suicide, the last one a mere four days ago. Farmers find themselves unable to pay loans; imports have crashed farm-produce prices (pepper once sold at Rs 1200 per kg is now Rs 350 per kg);
(b) Wild animals overrun the farms often. Several farmers no longer farm due to it. Wild elephants also often kill farmers. Since 2008, Wayanad has seen 67 deaths due to attacks by animals. Over 150 have been seriously injured.
(c) Wayanad has the largest share of the tribal population in Kerala and they are angry. They launched several agitations in recent past owing to their landless status. They have been pushed to stay in forests where there is no drinking water. Every election, Congress promises land to construct homes. But it never materializes once the elections are over.
(d) There is no hospital despite the UDF government having sanctioned one in the past. The nearest one is 72 km away in Kozhikode.
It is certain though Rahul Gandhi must have weighed the pros and cons of his decision.
For one, it could reignite the flagging spirit of Congress workers in Kerala, a state where Congress senses a sizeable share in the 2019 general poll.