Candidates wary of caste-based votes and possible splits in traditional vote banks

KOVALAM: As the triangular electoral tussle at the Kovalam constituency draws to an exciting finish the traditional battle lines between the major political formations have become heavily blurred. Even as they espouse their agenda for the development of the constituency the three leading candidates - George Mercier of Congress, A. Neelalohitadasan, independent and Rufus Daniel of the LDF - also appear to have a wary eye on undercurrents such as caste-based votes and possible splits in traditional vote banks.

Mr. Mercier, who says he is fully confident of bagging all the traditional UDF votes and that he would benefit from the "split in LDF votes" thanks to Mr. Neelalohitadasan, was on a tour of the Poovar panchayat on Wednesday.

It was almost noon when his motorcade rolled up opposite the Poovar bus stand to the accompaniment of `chenda melam.'

"If Oommen Chandy has to come back to power, it is important that I win in Kovalam," he told a cheering group of UDF supporters. He did not forget to have a go at his rival candidates. "I have stood steadfast with the Congress for 38 years, waiting patiently for my turn. Many who came after me have gone ahead. Still I did not change my party," he said, indirectly referring to Mr. Daniel who became the president of the Venganoor panchayat on a Congress ticket

"You can come to my house and open any cupboard. You will not find any skeletons there. There are no allegations against me," he added; another indirect reference, this time, to Mr. Neelalohitadasan.

The people who represented Kovalam in the past failed to solve the constituency's problems. So they do not deserve to get elected again - this was the UDF candidate's refrain at one street corner speech after the other.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Neelalohitadasan started his campaign at Marappalam junction before moving on to various housing colonies in the Kanjiramkulam area. Drawing on his personal rapport with the voters built up over the years, the independent candidate portrayed himself as a victim of concocted cases and a "biased" court verdict.

"The life of a politician, a public servant, should not be dictated to by such false cases and court verdicts. This is one of the reasons why I am contesting as an independent candidate. My life is an open book. I am in your court now, the people's court. You have to pronounce judgement on me," he kept on repeating at various reception points. When he started to speak at the Ravi Nagar colony a group of women insisted that he get down from his jeep and speak. As soon as he did so, an old woman grabbed his hands and told him that all votes in that colony were for `Neelan.' "We will never vote for anyone else," the woman added.

At the Nediakala market, he spoke about his support for community-based reservations during the Mandal debate.

"I also had a role to play in the Government's decision to set up the Narendran commission to look into the need for special recruitments for backward communities. If you vote for me I can, as an independent MLA, get the support for all political parties to continue working for the backward sections of society at Kovalam," he said.

For the LDF campaign too the focus was on Poovar and Kanjiramkulam on Wedenesday. Like Mr. Neelalohitadasan, Mr. Daniel too is banking heavily on his personal rapport with the people of his constituency and his achievements as the president of the Venganoor panchayat. Moreover, Mr. Daniel says he is absolutely sure that he will bag the full complement of traditional LDF votes in the constituency.

"I am your Rufus, one among you. I have and always will remain with you in all your struggles. Vote for me so that your voice is heard in the Assembly," he told a group of LDF supporters at Arumanoor.

"Through my public life I have demonstrated that there is no problem that cannot be solved if the people come together and act. Give me a chance to implement this model of initiating development activity in all of Kovalam. If I win I will not be an MLA who will be a distant figure. I will always be among my people," he repeatedly promised at street-corner meetings.