George Jacob

KOTTAYAM: The Kottayam Assembly segment is one of the two seats where the CPI(M) has directly locked horns with the Congress in the district, the other being Puthuppally. It is also one of the seats where they made an early start and have succeeded in maintaining the momentum. The initial confusion in the UDF over seat-sharing when the name of Ajay Tharayil was announced after allotting it initially to sitting MLA Mercy Ravi had resulted in rebel threat. The issues have been ironed out and after initial hiccups Mr. Tharayil has hit the campaign trail.

CPI(M) candidate V. N. Vasavan is not a new face to Kottayam. A former president of the district cooperative bank, he is also the district secretary of the CITU and district secretariat member of the CPI(M). His political career had humble beginnings and has strong roots in the Chethuthozhilali Unions. The last one-decade saw Mr. Vasavan emerging as one of the best organisers for the party in the district. He is on the director board of the RUBCO. This is his third attempt to win the Assembly elections. He had unsuccessfully contested against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy from Puthuppally in 1987 and 1991.

A fresher, one of the major handicap Mr. Tharayil suffered was in getting introduced to the constituency as his area of operation was Kochi. A KPCC general secretary, Mr. Tharayil is actively associated with the Olympic Association and Sports Council. Strong exception taken by the SNDP Yogam to his candidature had also made his work difficult. Mr. Tharayil is banking on the goodwill created by the unprecedented development works in the infrastructure done by his predecessor Mercy Ravi.

There are four others in the fray, including BJP's T. N. Harikumar, E. Sreedharan of the AIADMK, Kunjumol T. M. of the CPI-ML and Johnkutty of the SUCI.

The Kottayam Assembly segment, which consists of the Kottayam Municipal area and the grama panchayats of Kumarakom, Thiruvarpu, Vijayapuram, Manarcadu and Nattakom, has long been a Left stronghold. Only on three occasions, it had sent non-Communists to the Assembly. In the first Assembly, it was P. Bhaskaran Nair of the unified Communist Party who represented the segment. The Congress through M. P. Govindan Nair wrested the constituency in 1960 only to concede it in the next elections. Barring N. Sreenivasan of the SRP (1982) and Mrs. Ravi, all the others were from the Communist Party. Even when the segment went with the UDF in 1977, it was CPI's George who got elected.

One of the major issues that confront the contestants is the lack of infrastructure development in the area, especially drinking water and road connectivity. The constituency had been severely hit by the crisis in the paddy sector and this is going to have a major impact in deciding the voting pattern. The contestants have also taken up the special problems being faced by Kumarakom and adjoining panchayats on the waterfront.

In 2001, Mrs. Ravi had registered a margin of 11,841 votes. However, there was a big reversal in the Parliament elections of 2004 when K. Suresh Kurup registered a margin of 12,820 votes in the segment. Interestingly, Kottayam was one of the segments where the Left suffered setbacks in the panchayat elections.

It had not only lost the Kottayam Municipal Council to the UDF but also registered reduced margins in many of its bastions. Presently, Thiruvarpu, Kumarakom and Vijayapuram grama panchayats are with the LDF and Manarcadu and Nattakom panchayats with the UDF.