R. Madhavan Nair

Wayanad farm crisis is reflected in the poll scene here

KOZHIKODE: The stage is set for a keen contest in the hilly Kalpetta constituency, where the main contestants are the former Minister K.K. Ramachandran of the Congress and M.V. Shreyams Kumar of the Janata Dal (S).

The Left Democratic Front (LDF), of which the JD(S) is a constituent, has launched an all-out effort to wrest the seat from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the election to be held on April 29. However, the UDF camp is confident that the electoral history of Kalpetta will repeat itself.

The UDF has been able to post a string of comfortable victories in Kalpetta, largely because of the support enjoyed by its constituents the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Congress.

Kalpetta is part of the green, serene and mountainous Wayanad district. And this district has been one of the few strongholds of the Congress in the State. But that was before the recent split in the party. In recent elections to the local bodies, the UDF was routed here. The results of the Assembly polls will show how strong is the patch-up between the Congress and the Democratic Indira Congress (Karunakaran).

Family tradition

Mr. Shreyams Kumar is making a determined bid to end the controversial Congress leader's victory run. And his camp hopes to garner votes cutting across political lines. Shreyams Kumar, 39, also derives confidence from the fact that in the usually pro-UDF constituency, his father and State president of his party M.P. Veerendrakumar had won the Assembly election in 1987.

Another confidence-boosting factor is his family's colourful political traditions, beginning with his grandfather Padmaprabha Gowder, who had represented the region in erstwhile Madras Assembly.

Mr. Ramachandran and his supporters are unfazed by the presence of his more colourful and much younger rival. Ramachandran, two times Minister and known for his shrewd political skills that have helped him survive the turmoil of groupism in the Congress, is now celebrating 25 years as an MLA. He has won a string of elections from the mountainous district. And he is confident of repeating his victory in spite of the strong campaign that the LDF has launched to highlight the circumstances in which he had to quit as Health Minister after adverse remarks made by the Lok Ayukta over his alleged interference in appointments in the Health Department of which he was Minister in the Chandy Government.

Mr. Sreyams Kumar was Wayanad district secretary of the Janata Dal (S) for six years from 1996 and Yuva Janata Dal State secretary-general since 1997. Though a new entrant into the arena of State elections, he had already made a mark in the Mathrubhumi, the newspaper group of which he is the Director (for marketing and electronic media) by initiating a series of innovative and successful strategies for organisational growth.

But Ramachandran, a seasoned politician, is no push over in Kalpetta. He has posted three successive wins from Kalpetta constituency in the Assembly polls in 1991, 1996 and 2001, the last one with a comfortable margin of 17,440. Earlier, he had won three Assembly elections in a row from Sulthan Bathery constituency, also in Wayanad district. These were in 1980, 1982, 1987. He has not been defeated even once in the last 25 years.

Recent poll results

But in more recent elections, the LDF had shown it also commands enough support to pull off a win. In the Lok Sabha poll in 2004, Mr. Veerendrakumar, contesting under the LDF banner, secured a lead of 4,146 in the Kalpetta Asembly segment. In the elections to local bodies LDF victories were more spectacular. But in that elections it also had the support from the DIC(K).

The severe agricultural crisis in Wayanad district is reflected in Kalpetta election scene. The presence of Mr. Surendran, Independent, fielded by Karshaka Munnani, floated by two farmers organisations, the Indian Farmers Movement (Infam), the Farmers Relief Forum, and the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha is a grim reminder of Wayaand's bleak economy. BJP candidate P.R. Balakrishnan's performance is keenly watched.

According to the latest statistics released by the Election Department, Kalpetta constituency has an electoral strength of 1,57,521, women outnumbering men 79,445 - 78,076. With the LDF and the UDF determined to win the electoral battle, Kalpetta presents an exciting picture as campaign managers of the main contestants gird up their loins for the final lap to the victory post.