The “kingdom” begins from Rajapuram. The king’s writ runs here. In this abode of the Mannan tribe, the noisy election going on in the world’s largest democracy seems afar.

The tribe is the only one in South India that has a traditional king as its ruler. In the 1980s, after a political clash broke out between his subjects, the then king, Nayan Rajamannan, ruled against holding political campaigns in the tribal settlements, Kudis in local parlance.

The rule is still observed, though Thevan Rajamannan succeeded Nayan Rajamannan, followed by Ariyan Rajamannan and now Raman Rajamannan. The king has 46 settlements under him, including one each in the districts of Thrissur and Ernakulam. Kovilmala is the administrative headquarters.

“Election workers live here and the three main contestants have already reached here,” says Raman Rajamannan.“People vote according to their wishes without any intervention.”

Walk to the kudi in Kovilmala. No election poster or other campaign material can be spotted. Nayan Gopi, a tribal member, says the people in the settlements do not have much interest in the campaign because of a common perception that those who win on promises never come back to fulfil them.

The Mannans, believed to be a warrior tribe that migrated to the forests during the Chera-Chola wars, are more deprived than those of other tribes in the district. Vast areas of land they had traditionally held had been alienated. People from outside have settled at Murikkattukudy, which once belonged to the tribe, says Mr. Gopi.

Teak plantations have extended into their land. Another reason for the alienation of tribal land was the rehabilitation of those who surrendered land for the Idukki hydroelectric project.

At present, 250 tribal families live in Kovilmala with their shrinking landholdings. Most of them live in decrepit huts, working for daily wages. Election promises are often forgotten, Raman Rajamannan says. Drinking water, houses and basic facilities are what the king asks for his subjects. An amount of Rs.20 lakh allocated in the State Budget for 2013-14 for a traditional palace for him remains a dream.

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