Arun Lakshman | Thiruvananthapuram
The opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress is expected to make major headways in the Indian state of Kerala in the general elections with the front to take at least 13 seats out of the total of 20 with the ruling LDF led by the CPI(M) to contend with 7 seats or even less.
While the BJP, the BSP and the NCP will give stiff fights to both the camps in some seats, eventually the seats would be shared between the two major fronts. The Congress camp is bubbling with enthusiasm with all the senior leaders of the party from the union defence minister AK Antony to the state PCC president Ramesh Chennithala sharing with the press their expectation as high as that of 18 seats.
However, a trip through Kerala by this correspondent suggested that even though there was a strong anti-CPI(M) wave in the state, with the people resenting to the communists’ sharing dais with the dreaded Islamist leader Abdul Nasser Madani and the multi-million rupees corruption charges coming out against the CPI(M) state secretary, the UDF and the Congress are not that welcome either. The Congress-led UDF, though may win in at least 13 constituencies, would win them as a negative vote against the CPI(M) rather than any positive work done by the party.
The state election scene touched international importance after the former UN senior official and writer Shashi Tharoor, who had earlier contested unsuccessfully for the post of the UN Secretary-General, contested on a Congress ticket from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. The left opposed him; the CPI district secretary P Ramachandran Nair is contesting him for the seat. It is overall a strong, four-cornered fight in the seat with the BJP state president PK Krishnadas and senior leader of the state and former minister and strong man of the backward classes Neelalohitha Das Nadar contesting on a BSP ticket.
With around 738,000 votes polled on 16 April and with the BJP and the BSP winning around 280,000 votes, there is a possibility of a neck-and-neck race between the Congress candidate and the CPI candidate. Chances are, of course, higher of Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor romping home with a thin majority as the CPI(M) had not worked properly for the LDF candidate; there were some serious disagreements between the CPI(M) and the CPI, which have not been on good terms of late.
The other seats which have assumed significance are Ponnani, Wayanad, Vadakara, Kannur and Kozhikode. The Ponnani seat, which was seized by the CPI(M) from the CPI, where the latter contested it for the past 25 years, was contested by Madani’s PDP candidate in the guise of a leftist independent. It may be recalled that the CPI and the CPI(M) went public in their spats over this seat. But according to reports from the battleground, the left candidate does not stand a chance, what with a palpable domination of the Indian Union Muslim League in the region, the candidate of which ET Mohammed Basheer is expected to win the seat by a margin of not less than 30,000 votes.
Wayanad, which is a newly constituted seat carved out of Kannur, Malappuram and Kozhikode constituencies, is interestingly poised with the UDF having a major lead. The entry of NCP state president K Muraleedharan, the son of the veteran Congress leader K Karunakaran, has turned things around. Muraleedharan, who was one of the most respected PCC presidents of Kerala and a three-term MP from Kozhikode constituency, was an immediate ‘hit’ as soon as he filed his papers. Congress candidate MI Shanavas bears the tag of an outsider, as he is a person who belongs to Ernakulam. The LDF candidate from the CPI does not enjoy the grassroot support from the CPI(M); this makes the contest a strong three-cornered one. In terms of pure electoral mathematics, Shanavas would emerge victorious with a margin of more than 100,000 votes. Even now, Shanavas has a clear edge, but the margin could be much lower and the Congress candidate may just scrape through.
The CPI(M) seized the Kozhikode seat from the Janata Dal (S), creating a major furore as sitting MP Veerendrakumar is a senior leader of the left and state president of the Janata Dal (S). Congress candidate MK Raghavan is poised to win from this seat as there are now many disgruntled elements within the LDF following the shoddy treatment the CPI(M)’s official faction meted out to senior leader MP Veerendrakumar.
In Kannur and Vadakara, the traditional seats of the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF show indications of a spirited fight, where the CPI(M) candidates are expected to win by wafer-thin margins.
Notwithstanding the fact that politics is a game of uncertainties, the anti-CPI(M) wave and mood among the electorate is palpable and visible across Kerala. The UDF is likely to form the next state government, thanks to anti-incumbency — though this is not Kerala's assembly election, that is the general public sentiment — which, in turn, is an obvious fallout of the scam-infested and factionalism-ridden past few years' record of the LDF Government.
The reporter works with The Pioneer