An uphill task to handle the issue during poll campaign

Constituency watch: Kerala

The United Democratic Front, which was cruising in the electioneering for the April 10 Lok Sabha elections in the State, is finding itself on the defensive quite suddenly following certain references made by the Kerala High Court in its order in the land-grab cases against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s former gunman Salim Raj.

The Opposition Left Democratic Front has already pounced on the directive, demanding the Chief Minister’s resignation. CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, Polit Bureau member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, and Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan have demanded Mr. Chandy’s resignation.

Tension was evident in the Congress camp, with party leaders in the midst of hectic campaign unable to make appropriate responses when confronted by mediapersons.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president V.M. Sudheeran welcomed the High Court directive for a CBI probe in the land grab cases. As for the court’s observations, he said the Chief Minister would give his response.

Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the Government did not propose to appeal against the court order. It was only after Mr. Chandy held a news conference later in the evening that some order seemed to set in the Congress camp.

Mr. Chandy, who appeared confident, maintained that the government had handled the land grab cases in a transparent manner. It had favoured a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation right from the beginning, he said.

According to sources close to the Chief Minister, the high court order was not an indictment of Mr. Chandy but rather it was more in the nature of some observations relating to the functioning of his office.

The government did not oppose the CBI probe covering the office of the Chief Minister, the sources pointed. Moreover, Mr. Chandy had already stated that the performance of his government would be evaluated by the electorate in the Lok Sabha elections.

“Since the election process is on, let the people give their verdict,” a senior Congress leader said.

Despite the brave front put up by the Congress and UDF leaders, the coalition is finding it an uphill task to handle the issue during the election campaign at the grassroots level.

Campaign fatigue

The order has come at a time when the rival fronts have been experiencing campaign fatigue, with electioneering moving away from national and State political issues to more local ones.

It has become certain that the LDF will capitalise on the fallout of the directive, if any. The UDF, depending on how the issue develops, will have to redraw its strategies to counter the Opposition onslaught.

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