Kochi: Thrikkakara Assembly constituency, located in the heart of Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, is now feeling the heat of what could be called the fiercest political contest in its electoral history. Going to the polls on May 31, the assembly segment witnessed an intense campaign from the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the CPI(M), and the United Democratic Front(UDF), led by Congress.
Hell-bent on defending their ‘fortress’, UDF fielded Uma Thomas, the widow of late PT Thomas - a senior Congress leader who represented Thrikkakara in the Assembly from 2016 until his death in December 2021. The candidature of Dr Jo Joseph, an acclaimed cardiac surgeon at Lissy Hospital, Ernakulam, for LDF has rendered the battle difficult for the UDF in their stronghold.
‘Development’ has been the central theme of the campaign for LDF, whereas UDF tags their hopes to the loyalty of the electorate and the sentiments towards PT Thomas. The bye-election necessitated by the legislator’s demise has gained significance as the first major political contest since the LDF’s historic victory in 2021 to retain power for a consecutive second term. After the enormous victory of the incumbent government, increasing their seats from 91 in 2016 to 99 in 2021, the Congress leaders see a victory in Thrikkakara as 'a political necessity' for the UDF.
UDF candidate Uma Thomas with Congress leaders
Senior leaders of the Congress party, including AICC General Secretary KC Venugopal, KPCC president K Sudhakaran, opposition Leader VD Satheesan, Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala and others camp in Kochi to lead the campaign for their do-or-die battle. The campaign focus of the opposition alliance includes controversies and allegations against the government. The intense campaign against K-rail, the semi-high speed rail project proposed by the government, has been the highlight of the UDF camp so far.
The candidature of Uma Thomas as the successor of her late husband was a natural choice for the party, with the hopes to blow away growing discontent among their leadership. But to UDF's dismay, many leaders, including KV Thomas, former Union Minister and AICC member, have extended support to the state government’s ‘development agenda’ and are actively campaigning for LDF in the constituency. Speaking in LDF campaign programmes, Thomas stressed the need for K-rail and other infrastructure development projects in the state, extending support to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's vision for progress.
The UDF also chose to divert the recent developments in the actress assault case against the State government. But the survivor, after meeting the Chief Minister on Thursday, discarded such interpretations. The actress reiterated her trust in the State government and said the CM assured her that the government was with her in this case.
The surprise entry of Dr Jo Joseph into the poll-fray has turned the tables for LDF, increasing their hopes of captivating the swinger votes. By fielding a well-known professional in the urban constituency, LDF also expects a section of UDF’s traditional voters to shift their loyalty, in addition to the young professionals and IT employees who constitute a significant pie among the electorate.
Fulfilling basic assurances for the common people, including public health, education, subsidised essentials, welfare pensions and the LIFE housing scheme for the homeless, has been the hallmark of the first Pinarayi Vijayan government (2016-2021) that made the historic second term possible.
Along with continuing these welfare schemes, LDF also aims at big infrastructure development in their second term. Such promises for a 'Nava Keralam' (New Kerala)- projects like K-rail, K-phone, Water Metro and extension of Kochi Metro- have been in the mainstream campaign Thrikkakara. The LDF and their candidate approach the campaign with a positive intention.
Dr Jo Joseph on his campaign trail.
Although the by-poll result is not crucial for the left, the CPI(M) led alliance is orchestrating its entire machinery in Thrikkakara. From central committee members to every member of the party and associated class-mass organisations have been assigned specific responsibilities to execute. Even the door-to-door squads include senior leaders, ministers, MPs and MLAs. Senior leaders, artists, writers and other public figures accompany Dr Joseph on his campaign drive. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been attending public gatherings in the constituency, highlighting the development leap and the resistance against communalism.
Thrikkakara Assembly constituency consists of Thrikkakara Municipality and 22 wards of Kochi Municipal Corporation. A total of 1,94,690 voters- 1,00,375 female voters, 94,314 male voters and a transgender voter- are eligible to go to the polls on Tuesday. The total number of booths is 239.
In 2021, UDF's PT Thomas won with a margin of 14,329. Thomas secured 59,839 votes, whereas Dr J Jacob got 45,510 votes. The BJP candidate got 15,483 votes, and Twenty 20, a regional party in the Ernakulam district, secured 13,897 votes in 2021. The Twenty-20, which has recently allied with the Aam Aadmi Party, is not contesting the by-poll. The BJP has fielded AN Radhakrishnan as their candidate. The new voters and the votes that went to Twenty-20 in the Assembly election will also prove decisive if the by-poll ends with a close finish.