KERALA

Ideology takes a back seat

KOTTAYAM, APRIL 24. Often, hoardings speak louder than the loudspeakers in an election campaign. In Kottayam, rather than the words, it is the colour of these hoardings that are vocal. The UDF candidate looks at you from a blue background; BJP hoardings have all other colours splashed on them, barring saffron; and the LDF candidate is all over the place smiling at you from green or blue background. Even his emblem, hammer and sickle, is painted green. Gone are the days when the hoardings put up by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had red all over it, the Congress candidates identified themselves with the tricolour and the BJP proudly displayed saffron. As the campaigns for the 14th Lok Sabha elections hot up, ideology is definitely taking a back seat. Here, the candidates themselves have emerged as the main engines of their campaigns.

The LDF candidate, K. Suresh Kurup, could maintain the early lead he had registered in the campaign. In fact, the trend only shows that the LDF strategy, which was tried and found effective in earlier elections too, is paying off so far. Mr. Kurup and the mass organisations are now trying to storm the UDF citadels seeking the extra votes they needed for the victory.

Mr. Suresh Kurup has covered four constituencies in the mass contact programme, which he began on Thursday and one of the recurring themes was the significance of the need for the Left presence in the Lok Sabha. With the Congress treading a soft Hindutva path and taking a pro-globalisation stance on economic matters, only the Left would be able to take an effective stand on secularism and anti-globalisation struggle, he points out.

During the last elections, Mr. Kurup had registered lead positions in all the Assembly segments other than Changanassery and Kaduthuruthy, in spite of the fact that the UDF members represented four out of seven constituencies in the Assembly. After the 2001 elections, the LDF representation is confined to Vaikom alone and the campaign strategy would have to address the special challenges in the Kottayam segment and the new dynamism of the BJP in the constituency. The next one week would see a series of senior Left leaders such as Harkishan Singh Surjeet, A. B. Bardan and Prakash Karat coming to Kottayam.

While a heavy party structure could become an impediment for a seasoned leader to reach out to the larger electorate during elections, for a newcomer like Anto Antony, the Congress candidate, the near-total breakdown of the party structure, after a debilitating fratricidal war which saw the collapse of the `group structures' as well, appears to have become the major stumbling block in accelerating his campaign to a take-off stage. Though he has covered four Assembly segments in a mass contact blitz, the absence of a comprehensive offensive strategy against the sitting MP is visible. While Mr. Antony is harping on the role of the MP in developmental activities, especially infrastructure development, his campaign appears to be concentrating on augmenting his acceptability among the warring Christian factions and making use of the new political atmosphere in the Kottayam Assembly segment, which was wrested from the LDF in the 2001 elections.

He now will have to wait for the arrival of the Chief Minister's campaign caravan to bring in that extra dose of ammunition to ignite the final stage of his campaign.

If lucky, he may even get the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, to give that extra push, during her visit to Kerala in the first week of May.

For the first time in recent times, the BJP candidate, B. Radhakrishna Menon, a former district president, has succeeded in activating the party machinery right from the bottom that too at an early stage.

And his real task now would be to get this dynamism translated into votes since the early enthusiasm have started waning.

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