The Idukki Lok Sabha constituency is set for a close contest this time with political undercurrents likely to play a major role in deciding the fate of the rival candidates, especially in the high ranges that witnessed a spate of agitations against the reports on conservation of the Western Ghats.
The main candidates are Dean Kuriakose of the Congress and Joice George fielded by the High-range Protection Council, but later adopted by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) as its candidate. The constituency comprising seven Assembly segments is topographically divided between the low ranges and the high ranges, and the two have conflicting positions on the Madhav Gadgil and the K. Kasturirangan reports on the Ghats. How the community equations would play out in the constituency is also being keenly watched. The influence of the Church on the voters’ choice is a factor to be considered in the constituency, seen as a stronghold of the United Democratic Front (UDF). The Lok Sabha constituency consists of the Kothamangalam and Muvattupuzha Assembly segments in Ernakulam district and Thodupuzha, Devikulam, Idukki, Udumbanchola, and Peerumade in Idukki district. In the high-range belt, Tamil voters have a considerable say, and it is their affiliation with the political parties of Tamil Nadu that decides their voting preferences here. However, in the estate areas, the influence of the trade unions is a major factor to be reckoned with. In the 2011 Assembly elections, the LDF had won the Peerumade, Udumbanchola, and Devikulam segments and while the UDF was victorious in the Idukki, Thodupuzha, Kothamangalam, and Muvattupuzha segments.
Following the merger of the Kerala Congress(J) led by P.J. Joseph with the Kerala Congress(M), the UDF was able to make some inroads into the LDF pockets in the last Assembly elections. In the last Lok Sabha elections, P.T. Thomas of the Congress had a recorded thumping majority of 74,796 votes against Francis George, a leader of the Kerala Congress(J) which was then in the LDF fold. Mr. George was the incumbent MP when Mr. Thomas was fielded against him. But for a few LDF wins in parliamentary elections, the constituency has stood by the UDF. Unlike the previous elections, this time the election is being fought with a changed community affiliation, as the Idukki bishop has openly called for a vote against the Congress. He has been critical of the party for its stance on the Western Ghats reports. However, how this translates at the grassroots will be known only when the results are out, as it is difficult to change traditional voting patterns.
The division in the High-range Protection Council, following LDF decision to field Mr. Joice George as its candidate, had become evident when a meeting of the Council was held. Several Kerala Congress(M) and Congress leaders, who were active in the Council’s activities, were absent from the meeting. These political undercurrents may influence the voters.
Non-traditional voters and new voters, numbering 76,000, would also be a major factor in deciding the poll outcome.
In the initial campaigning, both the fronts have made the Kasturirangan report their poll plank.
The UDF claims that it is its timely intervention of the State government that had resulted in the release of the draft notification seeking to exempt more areas from the category of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) demarcated by the report, and there is no need for concern over the issue.
The LDF and the high-range council allege that it is the policy of the Union and the State governments that resulted in the publication of the Kasturirangan report, which would “adversely hit the farmers.”
Issues that affect the public such as price rise and economic sluggishness have been conspicuous by their absence, while the farmers’ issue has dominated the political discourse.