K.P.M. Basheer

A Left bastion till 2001 when the Congress won here

PARAVUR: The modern international airport at Nedumbassery notwithstanding, Vadakkekara is among the least developed constituencies in Ernakulam district. Once the hub of coir, handloom and toddy industries and a leading centre of inland fishing, Vadakkekara has now fallen on bad days. Cost-escalation and low demand have driven most coir and handloom cooperatives out of existence. Because of very low yield from diseased coconut trees, many toddy-tappers have migrated to Palakkad, Thalassery and even to Karnataka looking for better-yielding palms. And, because of the contamination in the water bodies, fish catch has drastically fallen. Complaints of water shortage, bad roads and other amenities abound. A sizeable chunk of the constituency's population lives below the poverty line and relies on ration rice for survival.

In the past, Vadakkekara always sent, with a couple of exceptions, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) men, including the top Centre of Indian Trade Unions leader E. Balanandan, to the Assembly. S. Sarma was the MLA for three consecutive terms, starting in 1987, 1991 and 1996. Vadakkekara used to be the Left's only safe bet in the district that is, until 2001. That year, it sent shock waves to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) by voting in the chosen man of the former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, M.A. Chandrasekharan, to represent it in the Assembly. Mr. Chandrasekharan beat the CPI(M)'s P. Rajiv (who is now resident editor of the party-run newspaper Deshabhimani in Kochi) by 1,920 votes.

Collapse of traditional industries and diversion of a substantial number of Ezhava votes to the United Democratic Front (UDF) were among the reasons for the LDF rout.

Mr. Chandrasekharan, who had at one time caught the imagination of the people, disappointed them by resigning as MLA to offer support to Mr. Karunakaran's fight within the Congress. When Mr. Karunakaran launched the Democratic Indira Congress-Karunakaran (DIC-K), Mr. Chandrasekharan joined it, severing his ties with the Congress.

Following the UDF-DIC(K) tie-up, Mr. Chandrasekharan is now back seeking the electorate's approval once again as the UDF candidate. The CPI(M) has fielded Mr. Sarma, who was the Electricity Minister in the Nayanar Government for two and a half years. Vadakkekara is one of the few constituencies where the CPI(M) and the DIC(K) confront each other. This embarrasses both, considering their electoral understanding for the local bodies elections.

Compared with 2001, this time, three political factors are favourable to the LDF. One, the alienated section of Ezhava voters are back in the LDF fold; two, the PDP, which has some crucial number of votes in the constituency, is aggressively campaigning for it; and, three, the voters' displeasure over Mr. Chandrasekharan's resignation, which the LDF is using to its advantage to the hilt. And as Mr. Sarma, Mr. Chandrasekharan is also put on the defensive over the CPI(M)-DIC(K) camaraderie during the panchayat elections.

Mr. Sarma, who began his candidate's tour in Chittaattukara on Monday, tried to hit out at Mr. Chandrasekharan at every campaign meeting over the `letting down' of the constituency by resigning from the Assembly. By this, Mr. Sarma alleges, the rival candidate had caused the lapse of Rs. 44 lakhs due to the constituency by way of MLA's funds. "What is the guarantee that he will not do it again," he asks the electorate.

Mr. Chandraskharan, on the other hand, makes a virtue of his resignation. He told The Hindu that his resignation was a big personal sacrifice for a cause and a leader. It also showed his personal integrity and honesty, he claimed. Moreover, though he had resigned, he had always been with the people of the constituency in their hour of need. As for the holding up of the MLA's funds, he said he had gone to the court to set it right.

He said his two main priorities, if re-elected, would be finding a solution to the water shortage and building the proposed Angamali-Manjali canal. He would also try to get the closed handloom and coir units reopened. He alleged that it was the CPI(M)'s consistent opposition to the modernisation of the handloom and coir sectors that had led to the collapse of these sectors.

Mr. Sarma told The Hindu that if elected, he would take steps for the revival of the traditional industries in the constituency. The LDF Government would write off the accumulated debts of the coir and handloom cooperatives. He also highlighted development works he had initiated during his three terms, and, particularly, during the time when he was Minister.

In an apparent move to mollify the people, Mr. Sarma, at every meeting, seeks the forgiveness of the people for `any unintended mistake' he might have made as MLA in the past and for `any misunderstanding' between him and the electorate. He promises to be accessible to the people `anytime of the day or night.'