Congress Sunday announced that Rahul Gandhi will contest from a second seat in Kerala’s Wayanad apart from the family stronghold Amethi in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. “There were several requests for Rahul to contest from Wayanad,” Congress leader AK Anthony said in a press briefing.
When asked if Gandhi was not confident on winning the Amethi seat this time, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “Why did Modi ji leave Gujarat and contest from Varanasi? Was he not confident in Gujarat? These are immature and childish comments. She(Smriti Irani) will complete a hattrick of losses.”
The Congress state unit in Kerala had urged party president Rahul Gandhi to contest the Lok Sabha election from Wayanad. The state unit believes that Rahul’s presence in a Kerala constituency would give a boost to the Congress across South India.
Where is Wayanad?
Wayanad is in North Kerala, and shares its borders with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Lok Sabha constituency is spread over the three revenue districts of Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram, and comprises seven Assembly segments — Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad revenue district; Thiruvambady in Kozhikode revenue district; and Nilambur, Eranad and Vandoor in Malappuram revenue district.
The Wayanad seat came into being in 2009 after the delimitation of constituencies. The senior Congress leader M I Shanavas won the first election at the seat, defeating the CPI’s M Rahmathulla by a large margin of 1.5 lakh votes. Shanavas retained the seat in 2014 — however, his margin of victory fell sharply to just over 20,000 votes.
Shanavas died in November 2018. As less than six months were left before the general elections, no bypoll was held, and the seat is currently vacant.
Wayanad, a safe seat?
Wayanad is reckoned as one of the safest constituencies for the Congress in Kerala, and there were several contenders for the party ticket here. Shanavas belonged to the ‘I’ faction of the Congress, and the leader of that faction, Ramesh Chennithala, had demanded the seat for his group.
Following intense lobbying by Oommen Chandy, the leader of the rival group, however, the candidature of his confidant and young leader T Siddique had been finalised. Despite the Congress not formally announcing Wayanad, Siddique as its candidate, he had begun his campaign and held several roadshows and meetings. The LDF candidate at the seat is CPI’s P P Suneer.
The BJP has allotted Wayanad to its ally, the BDJS, which is yet to announce its candidate.
Even though Wayanad has been represented in Lok Sabha twice by a Congress candidate, Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Thiruvambady — three of its seven Assembly segments — are currently with the CPI(M), and a fourth, Nilambur, is represented by the CPI(M)-backed Independent MLA P V Anwar.
The other three Assembly segments — Sulthan Bathery, Vandoor and Eranad — are with the Congress-led UDF, including one with the Indian Union Muslim League.
That said, the entire Wayanad region has a strong pro-Congress votebank, particularly Muslims and Christians. The Nilambur Assembly seat in Malappuram was represented by Congress satrap Aryadan Muhammed for several decades before he quit electoral politics in 2016 due to poor health.
The Assembly segment of Thiruvambady, too, has been a UDF bastion, where the IUML has been contesting for the last two decades.
The constituency is one of the prominent agrarian belts of Kerala. In the Wayanad revenue district, which constitutes a major chunk of the constituency, only 3.86 per cent of the population lives in urban areas, according to the latest Census.
The farm sector crisis is severely felt in Wayanad, which is one of the largest pepper-growing districts in the country. Coffee is the other major crop, and several coffee-growing areas were badly affected by the devastating floods of 2018. The district saw a farm sector crisis in 2005-07, when several debt-ridden farmers committed suicide.
Wayanad district has the largest tribal population in Kerala. The population of the Wayanad revenue district is 49.48 per cent Hindu, 28.68 per cent Muslim, and 21.34 per cent Christian.