The question of Rajya Sabha seats in Kerala

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Indian Union Muslim League MP P. V. Abdul Wahab speaks in the Rajya Sabha. Photo: Sansad TV via ANI

Indian Union Muslim League MP P. V. Abdul Wahab speaks in the Rajya Sabha. Photo: Sansad TV via ANI

The rival political coalitions in Kerala — the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) — have nearly hammered out the differences within their alliances to reach a consensus on seat allocation for the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

Known for its adept handling of allies, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the LDF, has seen greater success in seat distribution compared to the Congress, which leads the UDF and which has encountered challenges due to its dominant partner, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), demanding an additional seat to contest the elections. Reportedly, both the main parties engaged in negotiations with their constituents and offered them a Rajya Sabha seat in the near future. Kerala elects nine members to the Rajya Sabha for a six-year term.

The Rajya Sabha terms of CPI(M) member Elamaram Kareem, CPI State secretary Binoy Viswom, and Kerala Congress (Mani) chairman Jose K. Mani will end on July 1. These three vacancies are likely to be a bone of contention within these coalitions soon after the Lok Sabha polls and could potentially trigger a realignment of forces in the complex political landscape of Kerala.

Currently, all these seats are held by the LDF. But the LDF will lose a seat to the UDF based on the strength of legislators from both fronts in the Assembly. The CPI(M), which has three more members in the Rajya Sabha, i.e., in addition to Mr. Kareem, will have to persuade the CPI, which is contesting four Lok Sabha seats, to offer the second winnable Rajya Sabha seat to the KC(M).

With the KC(M) announcing its candidate, Thomas Chazhikadan, for the lone allocated seat in Kottayam, Mr. Mani at present holds no official position in the LDF. The KC(M) enjoys support in Central Travancore, while the CPI has built a presence in all the districts over the years, though its influence is waning now. After the KC(M) switched loyalties from the UDF to the LDF, the Left parties supported Mr. Mani for the continuation of his tenure in the Rajya Sabha.

Dilemma of the Congress

Meanwhile, the Congress party is coping with the dilemma of accommodating the IUML’s demand for a Rajya Sabha seat without having one of its own members elected to the Upper House. Incidentally, the Congress had to forgo the Rajya Sabha seat that it could have easily won in 2018, as the party handed it over to the KC(M) to facilitate its return to the UDF. In 2016, the KC(M) walked out of the UDF, ending a three decade-long association, saying the Congress had not supported K.M. Mani in the alleged bar bribery scam.

At that time, the Congress’ Central leaders criticised its Kerala leaders for offering the Rajya Sabha seat to its junior partner. Six years later, the prospect of the Rajya Sabha poll is again looming over the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The IUML’s demand for a third Lok Sabha seat or another Rajya Sabha seat resonates with the rank and file. The party seeks better representation for Muslims in elected bodies, commensurate with the community’s population share (28%) in Kerala. The UDF already has two Rajya Sabha members — P.V. Abdul Wahab of the IUML and Jebi Mather Hisham of the Congress; both belong to the Muslim community.

Post-delimitation, when Malappuram district gained four seats and Kannur, Kozhikode, and Palakkad districts in Malabar each gained one seat, the IUML expanded its base. This contrasts with the southern districts, with Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta losing two seats each and Kollam and Kottayam losing one each. Interestingly, the LDF secured 39% of the Muslim votes in the 2021 Assembly polls, according to the Lokniti-CSD post-poll survey.

Electoral-wise, the Congress needs the IUML, but IUML does not need the Congress, to win Lok Sabha seats in Malabar. The Congress high command is expected to make the final decision on the IUML’s demand for the Rajya Sabha seat. However, if it hands over the Rajya Sabha seat to the IUML, it could spell serious trouble for the party and the UDF. Already facing accusations of appeasement, the Congress has to tread cautiously. It needs to balance electoral pragmatism and ideological integrity, while remaining mindful of the IUML’s option of aligning with the CPI (M), which has been aggressively wooing the party for some time.

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