As the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections enters the final phase, the Kasturirangan report that dominated the poll debate in the high ranges of Idukki during the initial phase has been put on the back-burner and the constituency is currently witnessing a close contest focussed more on local issues.
All the main contestants in the fray are focussing mainly on people-to-people contact, covering the large area and topographically divergent constituency. United Democratic Front’s (UDF) Dean Kuriakose of the Congress, who has entered the second phase of campaigning, says it a difficult task to seek votes personally within the limited time available to him.
However, he is trying his best to do that, listening to local issues such as shortage of drinking water, lack of proper road connectivity, and inadequate healthcare facilities, especially in the remote areas. “My aim is to cover the maximum area in a limited time,” says Mr. Kuriakose.
At roadside conventions, the Congress candidate highlights the good work done by the UDF government in the State and the need to bring a secular government led by the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi at the Centre. He also focusses on the importance of the youth in shaping the future of the country, with development and social security for the poor getting equal importance.
To questions on the Kasturirangan committee recommendations, his is a standard reply: he would do everything possible to protect the farmers. No other State government has done as much to protect the farmers in the Western Ghats as the one in Kerala, he points out.
The constituency has been a stronghold of the UDF, and P.T. Thomas of the Congress had won here with a margin of over 74,000 votes in 2009.
The big question is whether the Congress would be able to repeat that victory post-Kasturirangan report.
Not so hot a topic
While the report is a key discussion point in the high ranges, it is not so in the lower reaches – Muvattupuzha, Kothamangalam, and Thodupuzha. In the estate areas too, the Kasturirangan report is not a major topic of discussion.
Left Democratic Front-backed Independent Joice George is also moving at a frenetic pace with his focus on the rural areas.
At campaign meetings, he says that he came on the poll scene accidentally and that he will stand by the people who are at the receiving end of the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports on the Western Ghats.
The High Range Protection Council has also put up some posters in the constituency soliciting votes for Mr. George, who was its legal adviser.
What is becoming increasingly evident as the polling date nears is that political leaders who were in the forefront of the struggle against the Kasturirangan committee recommendations under the banner of the High Range Protection Council have gone their different ways and are now engaged in the election campaign on political lines.
However, an LDF leader said: “The high ranges had witnessed a number of agitations against the report and how it will influence the voters is a key question.”
The BJP, which has taken an entirely different stand on the Western Ghats issue rooting for the Gadgil committee recommendations, is stressing on the ‘Gujarat development model.’
Its candidate Sabu Varghese is seeking votes for a change of governance.
Unlike other constituencies, Idukki’s specialty is that its voting population encompass a vastly divergent range including estate workers of Tamil origin, settler-farmers in the high and low ranges, tribespeople in the high ranges and business community and professionals in the lower reaches.