Farmers' issue, development concerns take centre stage
: Whether the United Democratic Front (UDF) would retain its grip on Alappuzha district will be the focal point in the elections to the State Assembly on April 13.
Alappuzha has always played a crucial role in State politics, considering the number of State and national leaders who rose through the ranks from here. The district has nine constituencies; each is likely to witness a close contest this time.
In 1991, the UDF won six out of the 11 constituencies. In 1996, the tally went up to seven with V.S. Achuthanandan's defeat in Mararikulam. In 2001, it got better for the UDF, with the Left Democratic Front (LDF) managing to win only two constituencies, including Mararikulam, where T.M. Thomas Isaac made his debut. In 2006, the UDF won six out of 11, though the polls saw the rare defeat of veteran K.R. Gouri in Aroor. However, with Kuttanad's Thomas Chandy and his Nationalist Congress Party switching sides later, the LDF gained a slim, but technical majority.
The selection of candidates this time round appears to be made on the basis of caste and religion-based calculations. But, it remains to be seen whether these will bring results, as often the calculations have proved wrong with voters showing their own preference.
Starting from the north, Aroor has in the fray two sitting MLAs, A.M. Arif of the CPI(M) and A.A. Shukoor of the Congress. Mr. Shukoor has shifted his base from Alappuzha, where he had a rather convincing victory in November 2009. Mr. Arif will showcase his achievements, including the development of Aroor into a literal satellite unit of Kochi. Mr. Shukoor has focussed his campaign on lack of basic infrastructure.
In Cherthala, it is a question of emotion versus development. Whether veteran Ms. Gouri, fighting her 17th election from her birthplace, can win over the voters with the turbulent, yet compelling, story of her own life, or sitting MLA P. Thilothaman can cash in on the Cherthala Infopark and related developments, is the question.
As for Alappuzha, where the CPI (M) had the initial advantage with the early declaration of T.M. Thomas Isaac's candidature, the UDF has the tough task of retaining a seat that has been with it for the last 20 years. Whether P.J. Mathew, a first-timer who is a comparatively unfamiliar name in general politics though he was in the forefront of the Latin Catholic Church's agitation against the government citing diversion of tsunami funds, can carry out this task for the UDF is a big question.
The CPI (M) has thrown its entire force behind Dr. Isaac, who shifted to Alappuzha after delimitation erased the Mararikulam constituency. The Latin Catholic community is predominant here, accounting for 40 per cent of the population. Dr. Isaac was in the forefront of the revival of Komalapuram Spinning Mill, a first of its kind development in the country, apart from being quite generous to the constituency while preparing his budgets, right from the first one.
In Ambalapuzha, the young debutant from the Congress M. Liju is taking on Coir and Cooperation Minister G. Sudhakaran. Mr. Sudhakaran will have the poll plank of revival of the cooperative sector through the Punnapra Cooperative Hospital, Punnapra Cooperative Engineering College, MBA College and Finishing School, work on the long-awaited Ambalapuzha Government Arts and Science College.
In Kuttanad, Thomas Chandy has endeared himself to the people by offering personal help to them. His opponent K.C. Joseph of the Kerala Congress suffered an unexpected defeat in 2006 after having represented the constituency for over two decades. He has spent the last four years working for the people, the majority of who are farmers.
In Kayamkulam, CPI(M) sitting MLA C.K. Sadashivan will contest against M. Murali of the Congress, one of the senior-most legislators in the district. Though Mr. Sadashivan will have a few tourism projects to his credit, including the inaugural edition of the Kayamkulam Boat Race, the constituency has rarely re-elected an MLA, except in the 80s when the former Finance Minister Thachadi Prabhakaran ruled the roost here.
Further south in Mavelikara, a Scheduled Caste-reserved constituency which has two-time MLA K.K. Shaju of the JSS against the CPI (M)'s youth leader R. Rajesh, and in Chengannur, where the former parliamentarian C.S. Sujatha of the CPI (M) is fighting sitting MLA P.C. Vishnunath, it is anti-incumbency, more than anywhere else in the district, that is expected to play a major role.
Haripad is witnessing the return of son of the soil Ramesh Chennithala, who had made his Assembly debut here in 1982. His rival G. Krishnaprasad (CPI) had posed a tough challenge to Mr. Shukoor in the November 2009 bypoll in Alappuzha.
Across the district, however, the initial confidence that was visible in the UDF and LDF pockets has waned slightly with the contests getting taut as campaigning moves into top gear.