Linto Joseph, the 28-year-old candidate of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) from Kerala’s Thiruvambady constituency, a former athlete who was once the pride of the high range region is among the youngest candidates vying for a seat in the 15th Kerala Assembly.
NewsClick met the young turk from the Communist Party of India (M) [CPI(M)] on March 24 at Kadavu, a small town in Thiruvambady in Kozhikode district, on one of his campaigns. He was addressing a crowd consisting of children and women who were eagerly listening to the candidate talking about the issues of farmers in the constituency, among others. With majority of the population in the constituency depending on agriculture, agrarian issues are among the main focus in election campaigns.
Thiruvambady, a settler farmers’ belt in the high range region close to Western Ghats, had once been an undisputable bastion of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). However, in 2006, the CPI(M)’s Mathai Chacko, a charismatic young leader, had succeeded in seizing the seat from the UDF. The sudden demise of Chacko had led to a by-election in 2006 and the LDF had retained the seat through George M Thomas. Again in 2011, the UDF had won the seat and in 2016, the LDF had again reclaimed the seat fielding George M Thomas.
The main agricultural products in the region include coconut, areca nut, pepper and rubber. But the areca nut production has drastically gone down because of yellow leaf disease. The pepper farmers have also turned away from its production due to fungus infection of the plants and decrease in prices. The rubber planters, meanwhile, witnessed a crash in prices following the ASEAN agreement in 2009 signed by the then Congress led UPA government. The plantation sector, especially rubber, coffee and tea were the worst affected sectors due to the ASEAN- India Free Trade Agreement. Following this, the rubber growers in the area too have suffered.
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“Considering the nature of the constituency, a special package should be announced for the farmers here,” Linto told NewsClick amid the busy election campaign. He said that his campaign begins around 9 in the morning and continues till 8 PM. The candidate, who requires a walking stick to move, is trying to ensure meeting as many as people at different localities within the constituency.
Linto had met with an accident in 2019, while rushing with a tumour patient to the Kozhikode Medical College during the flood relief work which resulted in serious injuries. However, it does not refrain him from being involved in the issues of people. Due to the accident, Joseph has lost sensation on his right leg below the knee.
Owing to his active work as student activist, Linto is a familiar face in the area, especially among the youth. Earlier in the 2020 panchayat elections, he had made significant inroads in the former Congress stronghold, Koodaranji Panchayat, and was elected as the panchayat president.
Sharing his vision about improving the conditions of farmers in the region, Linto, who comes from an agricultural family, told NewsClick about the LDF manifesto that has promised a minimum support price of Rs 250 per kg of rubber, which the farmers and their organisations have been demanding. Along with the minimum support price, initiatives will be taken up to turn the crop into value-added products which would help the farmers to find a more stable income, he added.
Another issue faced by farmers in the regions close to Western Ghats is the attacks by wild animals including wild boars.“We can’t grow crops, especially the food crops, because of wild boar attacks. In our area, one man even lost his life due to such an attack. It’s a complex issue and these wild boars have made our lives difficult,” said a farmer from Kodencherry panchayat, one among the seven panchayats that come under Thiruvambady.
Interestingly, Thiruvambady falls in the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency represented by Congress scion Rahul Gandhi. However, Linto pointed out, even though agrarian issues are the centre of political discussions in this constituency, Gandhi has never bothered to raise these issues in Parliament.
He also mentioned the role of Congress and ASEAN agreement and how it has contributed to the sorry state of farmers. “Back then, when we (CPI(M)) had protested against the ASEAN agreement forming a chain from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram, Congress had branded us as if we are against the betterment of farmers. Congress even claimed that the agreement would increase the income of farmers. Now the farmers know what has happened. What the current BJP government doing is just the continuation of Congress government’s policies,” he explained.
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Elaborating on other issues in the constituency, Linto added, “Since it’s a high range area, connectivity has been a main hindrance in the constituency for long. We did not have good roads. But, the Hilly Highway project of the current LDF government has somewhat solved the connectivity issues in the constituency.”
“Lack of connectivity was the main reason behind the ill developed tourism sector in the region. But with Kannur airport and these new roads our scope in the tourism map have increased. As our surrounding areas like Wayanad are among the most popular tourist destinations, we can make use of it. Thusharagiri, Kakkadampoyil, etc could be turned into better tourism spots which could contribute to the local economy. The newly constructed roads and upcoming tunnel to Wayanad would also contribute to this. However, we will also focus on promoting reponsible tourism.”
The voters here believe that it won’t be an easy walk for the LDF. In the 2020 panchayat elections, which had seen an LDF wave, the UDF, too, had performed well. Therefore, C.P. Cheriya Mohammed, the UDF candidate, offers the toughest challenge to LDF in Thiruvambady. The BJP on the other hand, has fielded Baby Ambatt-a member of the settler farmers, with the hope of bagging more votes.
Amid the tough fight, the stance of Jamaat-e-Islami may also prove crucial for both the fronts, given the demographic constitution of the area. The UDF camp believes that Cheriya Mohammed would be able to take advantage of the pro-UDF stance of the Jammat-e-Islami. Last time, the victory margin of LDF was just 3,008 votes and in 2011, UDF’s victory margin was just 3,883 votes. As the victory margins have been very thin, every single vote in the constituency is important and candidates are busy ensuring maximum votes for their packet.