Campaigning for the 15th Assembly Elections in Kerala have begun in full swing with the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) announcing its candidate list. The opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are yet to announce their candidate list for the elections due on April 6.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who leads the LDF camp, kick-started the front’s campaign from his constituency of Dharmadam in Kannur district. The CM, who has successfully completed a five-year tenure, and fought through a series of unprecedented challenges including Ockhi, Nipah, the floods in 2018 and 2019 and COVID-19 was welcomed to his bastion by hundreds of people whom he addressed.
Targeting the Union Home Minister, Vijayan said “Amit Shah the embodiment of communalism. He will do anything to nurture communalism. Even though he became a union minister he has not changed much. A leader from the RSS – which propagates communalism – is here to teach us secularism,” he said.
Vijayan’s retort came a day after Shah, at a poll rally in Kerala, slammed him for attacking the central agencies probing gold and dollar smuggling cases and sought to know whether or not the main accused had worked in his office and if the CM’s office had tried to influence customs officials in the cases.
Health minister K.K. Shailaja, another star campaigner from the ruling LDF, is contesting from Mattannur constituency in Kannur and has been on tour. Shailaja, who had represented Koothuparambu constituency in 2016, shifted turf this time. Minister for Industries and Sports, E.P. Jayarajan, who represented Mattannnur in 2016 is also contesting this time along with a batch of other ministers including Thomas Isaac, A.K. Balan, G. Sudhakaran, C. Raveendranath and P. Sreeramakrishnan.
Shailaja teacher at Mattannur on Friday
While the LDF camp moves ahead with its campaigns, the UDF and BJP are yet to announce their full list of candidates. The Indian Union Muslim League, the second largest party in the UDF, announced its candidates on Friday. Of the 140 seats the IUML’s candidates are contesting from 27 seats. Candidates for 25 constituencies have been announced and the rest will be announced later.
P.K. Kunhalikutty, who resigned as MP to return to Kerala politics, is contesting from Vengara constituency in Malappuram. Kunhalikutty, who had been representing Vengara in the assembly, resigned from the post in 2017 to contest the Lok Sabha bypolls that year after the demise of E. Ahmad. Later, in the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019 he retained the post after winning against V.K. Sanu of the CPI(M). He is now back in state politics and eyeing a key position in the government if the UDF seizes power.
The Congress is yet to announce its list of candidates. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President Mullappally Ramachandran and Oommen Chandy met the Congress high command to discuss the candidate list a few days ago.
However, party infighting has intensified within the party for seats. Many Congress leaders have left the party and a few moved to the BJP. Pandalam Prathapan, whom the Congress had been considering as a candidate from Adoor, is one among them. Some Congress members have also moved to the Left Camp.
One of the prominent leaders of Congress, P.C. Chacko, has also resigned from the party citing cliques in the party’s Kerala unit. He had said that rival camps were jostling for tickets.
He alleged that the party’s candidates for the April 6 polls in Kerala wer being determined in an undemocratic way by two groups – 'A' group headed by Oommen Chandy and the 'I' group headed by Ramesh Chennithala. The two groups have been active in the state unit since the time of late veteran leader K. Karunkaran and senior leader A.K. Antony. The A group was then led by Antony while the I group was helmed by Karunakaran.
Conflicts within the Congress do not end there. According to reports, the party’s leadership in many districts, including Kasargod, Malappuram and Idukki are not satisfied with the proposed candidates. These workers say that they won’t allow the leadership to ‘plant candidates’ who were not familiar with their surroundings.
In Nilambur assembly constituency in Malappuram, former Kozhikode DCC President T. Siddique’s name has emerged as the UDF candidate. It was earlier said that Malappuram DCC President V.V. Prakash would be contesting instead. Now, party workers and Prakash are threatening to resign from the party.
Reports also suggest that many in Kasargod, including the DCC president, have conveyed their willingness to resign following dissatisfaction as a result of the candidate list. Party members have objected to the Thrikkaripur seat being given to the Kerala Congress Joseph group. While in Idukki, Congress workers have threatened to resign after former DCC President Roy K. Paulose was denied a ticket. Five block panchayat presidents, 15 district congress committee representatives and others are reportedly gearing up to resign from the party.
In Irikkoor assembly in Kannur district, the Congress I group has protested against the candidature of Sajeev Joseph, a close aid of K.C. Venugopal, one of the general secretaries of the AICC. The Irikoor assembly committee office, in Sreekandapuram, has been locked by I group workers who are pushing the candidature of Adv. Sony Sebastian.
In Chalakudy, Thrissur district, 33 booth presidents of the Congress resigned in protest against the candidature of Mathew Kuzhalnadan. The Congress workers who took out a protest march in demanded that the candidate should be from Chalakudy itself rather than someone from outside.
Heated Contest in Nemom
Given that Nemom is perceived as the only seat under the BJP’s hold in the state, the seat is prestigious for the party and both the LDF and UDF. Congress says that it will field a high-profile candidate from the seat. The names of Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala and K. Muraleedharan have been rumoured as candidates. The LDF, however, fielded V. Sivankutty, one of the popular leaders from the state capital.
In 2016, the BJP’s O. Rajagopal won the seat with a margin of 8,671 votes against Sivankutty of the CPIM) while the Congress-led UDF candidate finished third. The CPI(M) has been saying that it was the Congress’ game plan to allow the BJP to open its account.