KERALA

Neck-and-neck contest likely

Ramesh Chennithala

Ramesh Chennithala  

PATHANAMTHITTA, APRIL 14. Mavelikara is likely to witness a triangular contest in the ensuing general elections scheduled for May 10. The Mavelikara Lok Sabha constituency comprises the seven Assembly segments of Thiruvalla, Aranmula and Kallooppara in Pathanamthitta district, Kayamkulam, Mavelikara and Chengannur in Alappuzha district and the Pandalam Assembly segment that lies in Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta revenue districts.

The electoral battle in Mavelikara is going to be a tough one, as the three main candidates_ Ramesh Chennithala (UDF), C.S. Sujatha (LDF) and S. Krishnakumar (BJP)_ are seasoned politicians. As all the three major contestants are Hindus, especially Nairs, the Christian votes will have a definite say on the poll outcome. The Congress Working Committee member, Mr. Ramesh Chennithala, who represented Mavelikara in the 13th Lok Sabha, has been fielded once again from this Central Travancore constituency where the Hindu and Christian voter ratio is almost the same. The CPI(M) has fielded the Alappuzha district panchayat president, Ms. Sujatha, to capture this supposedly traditional UDF fortress. Meanwhile, the BJP-led NDA is equally confident of winning the seat. Their candidate is the former Congress Minister and former IAS officer, Mr. Krishnakumar.

C.S. Sujatha

C.S. Sujatha  

Mr. Chennithala who had secured a comfortable margin of victory of 33,443 votes over his LDF rival in the previous polls, Ninan Koshy, launched a delayed poll campaign in his home turf this time. Political analysts say that this might be on account of some sort of an "underestimation'' of his rivals in the fray. According to them, Mr. Krishnakumar and Ms. Sujatha are sure to pose a formidable challenge to the CWC member.

The LDF and the BJP candidates have reportedly gone ahead in their campaigning, although all the three claim to have completed their first round of campaigning which involved house visits and renewal of personal bonds in the constituency. While both Mr. Chennithala and Ms. Sujatha hail from the same constituency, Mr. Krishnakumar is a familiar figure as a former Minister and three-time MP from the neighbouring Kollam constituency.

Mr. Chennithala had been very active in his constituency during the past four-and-half years and he was instrumental in the inclusion of the Pampa in the National River Conservation Programme and for the proposed Pampa Action Plan prepared by the National River Conservation Agency. Ms. Sujatha is banking on her achievements as the president of the Alappuzha district panchayat and the development projects worth Rs. 40 crores she had initiated in the Mavelikkara Lok Sabha segment during the past nine years. A good organiser who commands considerable acceptance among different sections in society, Ms. Sujatha has proven herself to be an efficient district panchayat chief.

Mr. Krishnakumar, who had joined the BJP a few months ago, has prepared a development agenda and has highlighted his long list of achievements as a popular administrator and Union Minister. The BJP State general secretary, P.P. Mukundan, who spearheads the NDA campaign in Mavelikara claims that there would not be no erosion of votes from the Sangh Parivar camp this time. "The BJP have already formed a `Chakravyooha' to check its opponents making inroads into its votebank,'' he said.

It is noteworthy that Mavelikara with a total electorate strength of 8,45,593, including 17,823 new voters, as on February 10, is the constituency with the lowest voter-strength in the State. The outcome of various elections in the past show that influencing voters in this highly literate constituency through `electoral gimmick' would not be an easy task. The Christian votes would play a decisive role in the electoral arithmetics of this predominantly agrarian belt. Members of the Orthodox and Mar Thoma churches form a major chunk of the community in the constituency. Moreover, the Mar Thoma Church has its headquarters in Thiruvalla.

Either the UDF or the LDF unfailingly fielded a member of the Mar Thoma church or a non-Catholic in Mavelikara for the past three decades. It is noteworthy that the ensuing Lok Sabha elections is going to be the first one that does not have a candidate from that community in any of the 20 constituencies in the State. The UDF candidate in Idukki, Benny Behenan, is the only non-Catholic candidate from Kerala.

Neck-and-neck contest likely

It is learnt that the Mar Thoma Church is not happy with the `guidelines' adopted by the Congress and the CPI(M) in the seat allocation process, especially in Central Travancore. In 1997, the senior journalist, B.G. Varghese, a member of the Mar Thoma Church, had contested in Mavelikara with support of the LDF. In the 1980 elections, the LDF candidate, P.J. Kurien, a member of the Mar Thoma Church and then a member of the Congress(U), had defeated the UDF candidate, Thevally Madhavan Pillai, of the NDP by a margin of 63,122 votes. In the next elections held in 1984, the LDF nominee, Thampan Thomas, again a member of the Mar Thoma Church, had defeated the UDF candidate, T.N. Upendranatha Kurup of the NDP, by a slender margin of 1,287 votes. In 1989, Prof. Kurien defeated his LDF rival, Thampan Thomas of the LDF by a margin of 57,182 votes. Prof. Kurien had got the mandate in the 1991 elections too, but with a reduced margin of 25,488, when he was pitted against the CPI(M) young turk, Suresh Kurup in Mavelikara. Prof Kurien's victory margin in Mavelikara had come down to 21,076 in the next elections held in 1996 when his opponent was M.R. Gopalakrishnan of the CPI(M).

Sensing the changing voting pattern, the CPI(M) had fielded Prof. Ninan Koshy, a non-Catholic, against Prof. Kurien in Mavelikara in 1998. It was then that it felt that it would be difficult for any political combination to register a victory in Mavelikara without making inroads into the decisive Christian votes. Prof. Koshy had given a tough fight to Prof. Kurien and was defeated by a slender margin of 1,261 votes. Mr. Chennithala registered a win over his LDF rival, Ninan Koshy, by a margin of 33,443 votes in 1999. Sangh Parivar sources admit that Mr. Chennithala had been helped by a sizable chunk of the Parivar votebank in the constituency, despite the BJP candidate, K. Raman Pillai, polling a total of 73,663 votes. It is noteworthy that most of the campaign managers of Mr. Chennithala are new faces. Prof. Kurien, who was also a contender for the party ticket in Mavelikkara, is reportedly keeping a low profile in the poll campaign of Mr. Chennithala.

However, it is too early to predict the `effects' of the simmering public resentment over the factional feud in the Congress on the prospects of the UDF candidate in Mavelikara.

The Congress camp is confident of an easy win in Mavelikara and Mr. Chennithala expects a trend in his favour after the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, visits the constituency in the last lap of the UDF campaign.

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