KERALA

High stake battle for LDF and UDF

C. Gouridasan Nair

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: No byelection in the recent history of Kerala has posed such heavy odds for the main players in Kerala's political arena as the one from the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency due on November 18. It is a high stake battle for the ruling UDF, Opposition LDF and even the third major prong in Kerala's political space, the BJP and the fledgling Democratic Indira Congress (Karunkaran).

If the LDF retains the seat, it would signal the beginning of a countdown for the UDF. But if the UDF wrests the seat back from LDF hands, it would be a big morale booster for the ruling alliance. The BJP can also ill-afford to take the battle with ease for its prestige is at stake in the constituency where it logged an impressive 2.28 lakh votes just a year ago. As for the DIC (K), which has thrown its lot with the LDF, it is a win-or-perish kind of situation.

The intensity of the battle and the high stakes involved are evident from the high-voltage campaign that the UDF and the LDF have unleashed in the constituency and the kind of manpower the two sides have mobilised to win the hearts of the close to eight lakh voters in the constituency. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the late P. K. Vasudevan Nair had defeated his Congress rival V. S. Sivakumar by a margin of 54,603 votes. He had secured 37.45 per cent of the votes polled against 30.30 by Mr. Sivakumar and 29.86 per cent by the BJP nominee and former Union Minister, O. Rajagopal.

Congress, UDF united

Unlike so many elections in the past, the Congress and the UDF are in the fray as one man and they are going all out to see to it that their nominee V. S. Sivakumar emerges victorious this time. Each Assembly segment in the constituency have been allotted to Ministers and KPCC general secretaries and leaders and workers from all over the State have descended in the capital to do their mite for the UDF election campaign. Going by the number of posters and hoardings from which the young Sivakumar smiles at his potential voters, it should be clear that money has not been a problem for the UDF campaign managers.

To top what it is doing on the ground, the UDF has also launched a surrogate advertisement campaign through the print and visual media.

Resource crunch

The LDF is clearly finding it hard to match the UDF in terms of resources at its disposal, but is trying hard not to be left behind and the earthy image of LDF candidate Pannian Ravindran, with his trade mark locks, is almost as widely dispersed as that of his main rival in the constituency. The LDF too has commandeered its leaders and workers from all over the State to work for its candidate and the CPI(M) has taken the electoral battle with unusual seriousness as is evident from the number of CPI(M) leaders and MLAs deployed on the ground.

The campaign themes are quite familiar, the UDF speaking almost exclusively about Thiruvananthapuram's development and the LDF interspersing national issues and the State Government's performance with the development theme.The BJP has so far been too quiet on the campaign front as to invite the allegation that it has already sold itself out to the UDF, despite its candidate being the widely liked former State party president C. K. Padmanabhan. Unlike in 2004, when the BJP campaign was focussed on the railway development initiatives of former Union Minister O. Rajagopal and the possibility of his moving one notch up in the scheme of things at the Centre, the BJP does not have any focussed campaign agenda this time.

Mr. Padmanabhan is not a visible presence in large parts of the constituency, but it might be uncharitable to hold this against the party as, in the just-concluded panchayat-municipal election too, the party had adopted a low profile campaign strategy and come up with a reasonably good performance in the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation area. The RSS faction in the party is reported to be cold towards Mr. Padmanabhan and reports from the ground indicate that the RSS is yet to hit the campaign trail. That should be a bad news for Mr. Padmanabhan.

The LDF has found a committed ally in the Karunakaran-led Democratic Indira Congress and its cadres are fighting hard to ensure the LDF nominee's victory. Despite his poor health, Mr. Karunakaran himself has already addressed several meetings and at all these meetings, his refrain has been about how the UDF nominee left him in the lurch after having stood by him in his inner-party rebellion till the very last minute. Nothing surprising about his anger, because for him too, this is a do-or-die battle.

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