KERALA

Low-key campaigning in Vadakara

VADAGARA, APRIL 24. There are hardly any signs on National Highway 17 that traverses the Vadakara Lok Sabha Constituency to suggest that an election is just a fortnight away _ no buntings, hoardings or high-decibel sloganeering. Similar mood of nonchalance prevails in the rural pockets too. Occasional posters of candidates in fray, streamers of red flags, the lotus and hand symbol dot the landscape.

What is notable about the tone and tenor in the run up to the poll here is that it is low-key and subdued in this otherwise politically sensitive belt. Vadakara, a centre of weavers, and agricultural workers, is noted as a hotbed of peasant movements for landholdings. Yet, the LDF candidate, P. Sathi Devi of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has made her presence felt in every nook and corner of the constituency. She is in the second phase of her electioneering, seeking the votes through a systematically chalked out campaign.

Ms. Sathi leaves nothing to chance, and is way ahead of her principal rival the UDF candidate, M.T. Padma of the Congress (I). Ms. Padma launched a much-delayed campaign from Manjodi in the Thalassery Assembly constituency on April 23.

In the two-cornered battle of women in the land of the legendary Unniyarcha, the voters have been gripped with national concerns as much as with regional issues. What is notable is that the leit motif the two fronts hone on is the dangers posed to the secular fabric of the country, and the urgency to stall the march of the National Democratic Front. Ms. Sathi harps on this aspect at every meeting. She further blasts the economic policy initiated by the Congress earlier, and now carried forward by the NDA. "It has amounted to pledging the country to global interests especially to the diktats of the U.S," she warns.

The Congress camp meanwhile claims that the election scenario has livened up for the front after the Navodhana Uatra of the Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, passed through the constituency. Ms. Padma, they say, is on a whistle stop tour of the constituency. "The record crowds that turned up to listen to the UDF leaders is an indication of a favourable wave," avers the former PCC member and former President, Vadakara Block Congress, M.K. Prabhakaran. He admits though that a stage has arrived when people are fed up of electoral politics.

The NDA candidate, K.P. Sreeshan of the BJP, meanwhile counters the argument. "People of the State have taken a negative stance towards the NDA. They are unaware of the welfare measures initiated by the Centre. I am highlighting these positive gains. If elected I will bring Vadakara to the mainstream of national politics," he said.

The LDF campaign is focussing on the anti-people policy of the UDF Government and rampant corruption. The LDF Vadakara Mandalam secretary, M. Kelappan, alleges that there is a `covert and overt' alliance of the Congress with the BJP in Kerala, evident nowhere else in the country.

What both the UDF and the BJP have been cashing on is the hope that the deleted 70,000 voters from the electoral roll in the constituency belonged to the LDF, to tilt the scales in their favour.

The margin on which A.K. Premajam had won was 59,161 in 1998. This was 25,844 in 1999. Meanwhile the LDF functionaries said that the deleted votes belonged to all parties.

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