In the seesaw battle for Kerala, it’s fingers crossed for the ruling Congress-led UDF and main rival LDF headed by the CPM. What has queered the pitch for the traditional rivals is the BJP’s new front which has made it a three-way contest in at least two dozen of the 140 assembly constituencies which will vote Monday.
The UDF is counting on the support it enjoys among Christians, Muslims and other minorities but Muslim voters are also being wooed by the CPM, playing on the community’s apprehensions about the rise of the BJP which has been helped by its alliance with the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) of SNDP leader Vellapally Natesan. The BDJS claims to represent the Ezhava community. Earlier, a sizeable share of the Ezhava votes would go the CPM way.
Star contestants include Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, CPM stalwart V S Achutanandan and his party rival Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala Congress (M) leader K M Mani, IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty, Kerala BJP president Kummanam Rajasekharan, former Union Minister O Rajagopal and cricketer Sreesanth.
The high-octane campaign saw national leaders — from Narendra Modi to Sonia Gandhi, Nitish Kumar to Sitaram Yechury — flitting in and out of the state to rustle up support for their candidates. Modi’s controversial Kerala-Somalia comparison had the two rival fronts slamming him for hurting Malayalee sentiment, and the hashtag #PoMoneModi took Twitter by storm.
For the Chandy government, the going has not been easy, rocked by a series of scandals and corruption charges. The Congress, hoping to buck the trend of an alliance being unseated every five years, is counting on developmental and welfare initiatives during its rule.
The UDF, Chandy said, is confident of retaining majority. “People of Kerala have accepted the UDF government’s motto of ‘development with care’. Even the Opposition could not point out a single instance of the government not keeping its promise or an issue in which the government did not intervene,” he claimed.
IUML general secretary K P A Majeed said in his party’s assessment, the UDF would get 75 to 80 seats and his own party would improve its tally. “Our focus has been on development and the charity activities of the government. People are fed up with the violent politics of CPM. The anxiety among the minorities about the rise of the BJP will benefit the UDF,” he said.
On the other side of the divide, 93-year-old V S Achutanandan, despite his age and the sweltering heat, stepped out for the LDF. He travelled across the state to drum up support for the party-supported candidates. For the CPM, a win in Kerala is a priority given that the party is now in power only in Tripura.