Of the many variables factored in the by-election forecast of Kerala's five districts, the weather was unlikely to have figured as a difference-maker. However, months of intrigue culminated in what amounted to a damp squib on Monday as heavy rains lashed the state and disrupted voter turnout in several areas where around 9.5 lakh people were eligible to cast the ballot.
The worst-hit was the Ernakulam constituency, where incessant rains inundated roads, railway lines and poll stations. Around 10-12 waterlogged booths had to be shifted as police and fire personnel were roped in to facilitate the voting. When polls closed at 6 pm, the official turnout was roughly 58 per cent – down from about 72 per cent in the 2016 elections, prompting calls (mainly from the UDF, which has traditionally dominated the seat) for an extension, postponement or re-election.
Speaking to the media, Kerala Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena had said, “The timing for casting vote can be extended even after 6 pm. If there is no other option, then we will check the reports of the returning officers and give the option of repolling in the select stations where no activity took place.”
For Shilpi Mathai, who waded out to vote after securing his flooded home in Kochi, the thunderstorms and 40-kmph wind gusts helped “put the ‘kulam’ (pool) in Ernakulam”. The four other constituencies – Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram (63 per cent turnout), Aroor in Alappuzha (80 per cent), Manjeshwaram in Kasargod (75 per cent) and Konni in Pathanamthitta (70 per cent) – fared better, though intermittent rains of varying severity played a crucial role.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued red alert warnings, for rainfall over 20 cm, in seven districts, including Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha and Ernakulam. To warn of heavy isolated showers, orange and yellow warnings were issued to Pathanamthitta and Kasargod districts respectively.
In Vattiyoorkavu, meanwhile, party workers in the UDF and NDA camps wondered if the red alert meant a ‘red wave’ of support for city Mayor V.K. Prasanth who is contesting the seat for the LDF. “The heavy rains might give some people here flashbacks of last year’s floods. In such a scenario, I don’t know if the other candidates can match up to the publicity the Mayor received for his efforts coordinating relief operations in the city,” said a Congress worker, who asked not to be named.