It’s not for nothing that a television channel has titled its Lok Sabha election coverage in Kerala 20-20. The election in 20 Parliamentary constituencies in the state also has all the trappings of a high-voltage T20 cricket encounter.
Both the Congress-led ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI(M)-led opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) are pitching for big gains in the election even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) takes another shot at that elusive electoral win in the state.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said that the election result would double as a progress card for the UDF government, leaving some of his colleagues on the back foot.
The Congress party and the government have had the going tough over the past 10 months in the backdrop of the solar panel scam and serious factionalism within the party and the front.
Chandy’s exuberance may amuse some but the Congress, after finding a new Pradesh Congress Committee chief in V M Sudheeran, has managed to leave some of its worries behind in its run-up to the election. National leaders including A K Antony have predicted more seats for the UDF; it had won 16 of the 20 seats in 2009.
Antony has set the tone for the party’s last-lap campaign by shifting lanes to the national race. He has taken on BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi by slamming his “divisive” brand of politics and even hinted that the Left parties would have to inevitably back the Congress at the Centre to ensure that Modi is kept at bay.
Leaders in the state have toed Antony’s line, maintaining that Congress – and not the Left that has proposed to stitch together a Third Front – is the natural choice to take on the surge of BJP. Yet, some of them add that it’s “a mix of local and national issues” that hold key in this election.
The Congress is contesting from 15 seats its ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) from two seats; Kerala Congress (KC), Socialist Janata Democratic (SJD) and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) are contesting from one seat each. The Congress party has gone for experience this time, with 11 of its 13 sitting MPs returning to the fray.
The CPI(M), meanwhile, has taken a blanket stand on both the Union and state governments and is pegging its campaign to five years of UPA and UDF misgovernance. The party’s state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had defined CPI(M)’s poll agenda way ahead of the election when he took out a state-wide road show where he targeted the governments on price rise and corruption.
In January this year, the CPI(M) suffered a setback when three of its functionaries were sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the murder of Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) leader T P Chandrasekharan. The CPI(M) has suspended one of the three functionaries after an internal investigation, an exercise critics of the party have dubbed a farce.
The TP murder is likely to leave its aftershocks in the northern constituencies of Kozhikode and Vadakara, both won by the Congress in 2009. A pre-poll survey, however, has shown the CPI(M) is likely to regain Kannur, Kozhikode and Vadakara in the north, all traditional Left bastions. The survey has predicted a 11-9 result in Kerala, in favour of the UDF.
The CPI(M) has also been criticised for its choice of some of the candidates. The party has fielded only 10 candidates (including its four sitting MPs) with CPI (four), Janata Dal-S (one) and five independents completing the LDF list.
The Left-backed independents have been dubbed “guest candidates” by the Congress but political analysts say the CPI(M) experiment with independents could deliver some surprise returns, especially in Idukki where the party has fielded Joice George, an independent candidate backed by the Catholic Church that has been spearheading agitation in the high-range areas against the Centre’s stance on the K Kasturirangan panel report on Western Ghats conservation. The LDF is also hoping to capitalise on its surge in many constituencies in the 2011 Assembly elections.
Ministers of State Shashi Tharoor (Thiruvananthapuram), Kodikunnil Suresh (Mavelikkara), K C Venugopal (Alappuzha), Mullappally Ramachandran (Vadakara) and All India Congress Committee (AICC) spokesperson P C Chacko (Chalakudy) are among the prominent Congress candidates.
The LDF has fielded two Congress rebels in Ponnani and Pathanamthitta while actor Innocent is taking on Chacko in Chalakudy and former IAS officer Christy Fernandes is fielded from Ernakulam.
With the RSP switching sides to join the UDF, election in the Kollam constituency in southern Kerala has overnight transformed into a keenly watched contest. RSP’s N K Premachandran is pitted against CPI(M) stalwart M A Baby here. Even as CPI(M) critics are busy predicting a fierce fight in this RSP stronghold, the party has found a strong voice in its tallest leader V S Achuthanandan.
The veteran continues to draw massive crowds during the campaign and his all-out attacks on Chandy and the UDF are adding verve to the LDF campaign.
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