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Married to the Mani

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Pala's 47-year old romance with the Kerala Congress stalwart

It's a strange love affair. In Kerala, a State that votes out the incumbent party every election, Pala has returned the same candidate, K.M. Mani, ever since the constituency was formed in 1964.

In his nearly five decade-long political career, Mr. Mani has represented Pala and only Pala. The Kerala Congress veteran is now seeking a 12 {+t} {+h} consecutive term from the constituency that he calls his first love — one that has propelled him into the record books as the longest serving Assembly member. There have been ups and downs in Mr. Mani's career, and shifts in political allegiance between the rival Congress and CPI(M) camps, but Pala has faithfully followed him everywhere.

“I've never given the people of Pala any cause to regret the confidence they have reposed in me. They know that I will not let them down,” says Mr. Mani.

Bristling at the perception of him as a leader of the ‘kulaks' (rich farmers) and a voice of the Catholic Church, he says that he has always fought against ‘elitist politics.'

When he was in the Left camp, his rivals were the ‘elite politicians' of the Congress, with even Indira Gandhi campaigning against him in Pala, he asserts.

Although he has nurtured the Catholic vote bank — which he says has helped him win successive elections — Mr. Mani has never hesitated to take on the Church's hierarchy. The clergy, on its part, has openly campaigned against him in the form of pastoral letters on more than one occasion.

Now one of the top strategists of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) camp, Mr. Mani has steadfastly held off his rivals from the Left front for the last two decades. Though he enjoyed five-figure victory margins till 2001, it came down to 7,759 in the ‘Left wave' that struck in 2006, when he defeated Mani C. Kappan, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) nominee and son of former Congress MP Cherian Kappan.

The LDF has fielded Mr. Kappan again this time in a bid to drive a wedge in the long-term relationship between Mr. Mani and the Pala constituency. The BJP's candidate is B. Vijayakumar, a former college teacher who is currently State convener of the party's disciplinary committee.

April 13 will show whether Pala will keep the faith in Mr. Mani once more.

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