As an impressive motorcade with United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate Shashi Tharoor at its head wades through the traffic to reach the Rajaji Nagar colony in the city centre, the campaign heat is as much at its peak as the summer heat.
A motley crowd comprising women and children waiting to receive him turn excited and insist on his alighting from the vehicle to reach out to the voters. After initial hesitation, Mr. Tharoor and Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar who accompanies him relent. Members of the crowd shake hands with him and take him out in a procession. Mr. Tharoor waves at the men and women and seeks votes in limited words. This enthusiasm gives confidence to the UDF workers.
Mr. Tharoor’s campaign is focussed on his development initiatives. Right from the city to remote hamlets such as Aryancode, Ottasekharamangalam and Kallikad, the UDF has put up huge boards detailing his achievements in each ward and they are seeking another term for an effective follow-up.
Buzzword is speed
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate Bennet P. Abraham, a long and middle-distance runner with a proven track record, conducts his campaign in a different manner. Speed is the buzzword. The anaesthesiologist targets to meet the maximum number of voters within the available time.
He has resolved to sweat it out and swears by the adage “that which sprouted in fire will not wilt in the summer heat.” He has a whirlwind visit at an array of shops at Thannimodu in Neyyattinkara. When he boards the campaign vehicle, Sreekumari, a juice vendor reiterates, “I will vote for a change this time.” A small crowd that gathered to meet Dr. Abraham also echoes the same sentiment.
Dr. Abraham claims to enjoy the son of the soil edge. He projects himself as the son of impoverished parents who made it in life by sheer grit and hard work. Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan is campaigning extensively for him. Dr. Abraham brushes aside arguments of poor support from LDF allies and rolls out a development agenda covering all walks of life.
Octogenarian BJP leader O. Rajagopal claims to have the early bird advantage. Once the party decided to field him, Mr. Rajagopal ensured his presence in all socio-political and cultural functions in the constituency. The BJP’s third round campaign is progressing on a confident note. The enthusiastic receptions and the gatherings at even the remote corners of the Parassala Assembly segment are being cited as proof for the Modi effect and the popularity of the candidate.
As Mr. Rajagopal’s pilot jeep reaches Valiyode near Ottasekharamangalam and a local leader starts listing out the lapses of the UPA government; Surendran a tea vendor, says that inflation and corruption will take a toll on the UDF. “The confusion over the Kasturirangan report will also have an impact,” he says.
But Kamalasanan, a CPI(M) sympathiser, senses a communal consolidation on the poll eve. The swing will determine the electoral prospects, for which there are no clear indications at present, he says. Mr. Rajagopal claims that the impact of the minority appeasement policies of the rival fronts has permeated to the grassroots and this will work in favour of the BJP. The RSS machinery is also working in full swing, he says.
Hallmark is austerity
Austerity is the hallmark of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) campaign. Its candidate Ajith Joy and a small group of professionals who accompany him function on a frugal budget. After having lunch at a small eatery at Santhivila, a semi-urban locale, when Mr. Joy starts his campaign, the pomp and splendour of the other three candidates are totally missing. There is only one announcement vehicle. When Mr. Joy goes out distributing bills in the shops at the roadside, Sankaranarayanan, a manual labourer reminds his friends that the candidate was an IPS officer. On introducing the AAP as an emerging party, a shop owner and his wife say “but you are growing swiftly.”
Voters in the rural areas are well aware of the growth of the party and they accord a warm reception to Mr. Joy. Asked whether it was the right time to take the plunge in Kerala and whether it would have been more judicious to start with the civic body elections, Mr. Joy says: “Every time is right time in politics. Voters who are frustrated with the performance of the rival fronts and the BJP will choose us as an alternative.
Constraints are too many, from funds to the time available, but we are trying to make the best of it,” he says.
As the intensity of the contest soars, the mindset of the voters continues to remain elusive. There is no apparent trend and that is what confuses the workers.