As the campaigning for the Assembly elections in Kerala picks up steam, we take a close look at the ten candidates across political parties one of whom could emerge as the king or even the kingmaker. We also profile the constituencies they are likely to fight from.
Oommen Chandy, Congress: For Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, this will be a most difficult election coming as it is post a turbulent five-year period which has seen some of the most explosive moments in the state’s political history. Even under heavy opposition fire for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore solar scam, he has steadfastly held on, defending his party and his government. If the Congress-led UDF wins, it will be a validation of his government’s ‘people-friendly’ policies, but if it loses, Chandy could be staring at a grim future. He will, most likely, fight from Puthupally, his home-town in Kottayam district.
Ramesh Chennithala, Congress: A former member of Parliament and the current Home Minister, Chennithala is in the reckoning for the CM’s post if Congress wins. Favouring him is strong support from the party high command in Delhi as well as his own loyalists in the state unit. Chennithala has also been the state president of the Congress party until 2014 when VM Sudheeran took over. He will be looking to get re-elected from Harippad, a largely rural constituency in Aleppey district.
VM Sudheeran, Congress: Making up the powerful trio of the Congress party after Chandy and Chennithala is VM Sudheeran, the state president. There are doubts over his candidacy, but local media reports have said that he could jump into the fray as well. More than anything, Sudheeran is known for his staunch endorsement of the state’s liquor policy that aimed to bring in phase-wise prohibition of alcohol in Kerala. He even went against sections of the party unit to bring in the policy. If he fights, it could be from Manalur in Thrissur district.
Pinarayi Vijayan, CPI(M): In the event of the CPM-led LDF coming to power in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, the state CPM secretary, could very well end up the next chief minister of the state. But there are hurdles in the way, most prominently in the form of VS Achuthanandan, the fiery former CM. That both of them lead opposing factions in the party is quite well known. Vijayan, who has so far stayed out of the poll race all these years in a bid to strengthen his position in the party, will contest most likely from Dharmadam in Kannur district, a hotbed of violence between the CPM and RSS cadres.
VS Achuthanandan, CPI(M): Even at 93, an age when most political leaders would settle down for a relaxed retirement life, VS Achuthanandan, popularly known as VS, is raring to campaign for his party. The former CM has always attracted massive crowds at his rallies and a huge question mark hangs around his candidacy. In the event of both him and Vijayan contesting, the party may be headed for a major factional war. The party has not yet declared a candidate in the Malampuzha constituency in Palakkad, an indication that it will be set aside for VS.
G Sudhakaran, CPI(M): G Sudhakaran, the vocal CPI(M) leader from Alappuzha, would be the one to watch out for. A former minister in charge of the cash-rich Devaswom Board, Sudhakaran might seek re-election from his stronghold of Ambalappuzha. He was elected to the Assembly both in 2006 and 2011 defeating the nearest Congress candidate by a large margin of votes. If he wins and given the CPI(M) comes to power, he would be expecting a big ministry.
KM Mani, Kerala Congress (M): This powerful leader from the Christian-dominated Kottayam district has made it to the Assembly every time continuously since 1965 from Pala constituency. A former finance minister in the Chandy government, Mani had to quit midway last year in the wake of allegations that he pocketed bribe from bar owners. It may have dampened his spirits a little, but his party, currently at the centre of a factionalism storm, is critical and integral to the UDF’s dreams of forming a government.
O Rajagopal, BJP: Considered the tallest leader of the BJP in Kerala, Rajagopal is popular for giving Shashi Tharoor a run for his money in the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in 2014 elections. At one stage, Rajagopal was looking to make a major upset, but eventually went down to Tharoor by a margin of 10,000 votes. For the BJP, which hopes to introduce its first-ever MLA in Kerala Assembly, Rajagopal’s candidacy in Nemom seat is critical.
Kummanam Rajasekharan, BJP: Just months ahead of the elections, Kummanam Rajsekharan, a vocal pro-Hindu voice in the BJP, was named the state president and tasked with ensuring the party’s success in the elections. In a polity dominated by the Left and the Congress, BJP has been struggling a lot. But post the 2014 elections when its vote-share spiked to 10%+, the BJP has high hopes. Rajasekharan’s future within the party would depend on how well the BJP does. He is likely to contest from the Vattiyoorkavu seat in Thiruvananthapuram.
PK Kunjalikkutty, IUML: Kunjalikutty, the Industries and IT minister in the Chandy government, is a candidate to watch out for as his party, the IUML, is a crucial ally of the Congress. The IUML scored its highest tally of seats ever when it got 20 seats in the 2011 elections, mostly in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district in northern Kerala. Kunjalikutty, who has vehemently supported the Congress whenever it was in trouble, is likely to seek re-election from Vengara.