T. Nandakumar

Both fronts have identified development as core theme of campaign

Thiruvananthapuram: When the CPI(M) chose to contest the Thiruvananthapuram East Assembly seat for the first time this year, it signalled its determination to shatter the formidable UDF track record in the constituency.

By fielding former Mayor V. Sivankutty to take on the sitting MLA B. Vijayakumar of the Congress, the party made it clear that it was prepared for a bitter fight to breach the UDF defences.

As the high-voltage campaign unfolds on the streets of the capital city, the LDF is flinging everything it has in a bid to secure its maiden win in the constituency. Both the fronts as well as the Hindu Munnai, the third serious contender in the fray, have identified development as the core theme for the campaign.

While Mr. Sivankutty is fighting his first Assembly election, Mr.Vijayakumar is seeking a mandate for the fourth successive term. Mr. Vijayakumar recorded his first victory in 1991 when he won by a margin of 7,928 votes over his LDF rival K. Sankaranarayana Pillai. In the 1996 elections, his victory margin dipped to 2,478 in a close contest with the Congress(S) rival Karakulam Krishna Pillai, but in the next elections in 2001, he raised it to 14,068 against Mr.Pillai who fought as an NCP nominee. An AICC member and president of the National Federation of Urban Cooperative Banks, Mr. Vijayakumar is the first candidate to score a hat trick in the Thiruvananthapram East constituency. Both the LDF and UDF camps are trying to hardsell their commitment to city development while the Hindu Munnani candidate P. Jyothindrakumar is approaching the voters with a vision plan for the city. The UDF camp is confident that the development works initiated by Mr.Vijayakumar over the last 15 years would see him through. The achievements listed in the UDF campaign include the construction of four major bridges, flood control projects and drainage and water supply schemes.

The LDF campaign is pegged on Mr. Sivankutty's performance as Mayor and the spree of development projects taken up under his stewardship. The Vilappilsala garbage plant, one-day building permit scheme, milk supply for schoolchildren and the Thrikkannapuram water supply project are some of the major achievements featured in the LDF campaign. The LDF leaders are confident of retaining the positive trend seen in the local body elections and the last byelection to the Parliament.

A member of the CPI(M) district committee, Mr. Sivankutty entered the political arena as a student leader. He was twice elected State president of the SFI and once its secretary. He was the president of the Ulloor panchayat before becoming the Thiruvananthapuram Mayor in 1995. While the LDF controls 16 of the 21 Corporation wards falling within the East constituency, the Congress has just one. With pockets of influence in the constituency, the DIC(K) could have a say in influencing the electoral outcome. The party, which had an electoral understanding with the LDF in the last local body elections, secured four seats in the Corporation Council. The DIC(K) district leadership had vehemently opposed the UDF decision to field Mr. Vijayakumar, a former Karunakaran loyalist who switched allegiance to the official faction. Though the UDF camp maintains that DIC(K) is cooperating with the campaign, they admit that serious differences persist at the local level.

While the LDF calculates that the Hindu Munnani would eat into the UDF vote share, the UDF believes that Mr. Jyothindrakumar would not pose a challenge. By backing the Hindu Munnani candidate, the BJP, which has a sizeable vote bank in the East constituency, has adopted a change of tactics to woo the electorate.