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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Padmaja Venugopal: Karunakaran’s daughter tries her luck again

Padmaja Venugopal, 60, the newly appointed vice-president of the Congress in Kerala, is one of the party's most recognisable woman faces and a leader credited with keeping in close touch with people.

Written by Vishnu Varma | Kochi |
April 1, 2021 10:30:34 am
Padmaja campaigns in Thrissur ahead of the Kerala Assembly elections (Twitter/@padmajathrissur)

While brother K Muraleedharan’s political graph is set to go up in Kerala with him contesting as the Congress candidate from Nemom — the only seat the BJP holds in the state Assembly — there is another descendant of the late Congress leader K Karunakaran who is once again trying to establish herself in the party.

Padmaja Venugopal, 60, the newly appointed vice-president of the Congress in Kerala, is one of the party’s most recognisable woman faces and a leader credited with keeping in close touch with people. However, in the electoral arena, and within the party, Padmaja has not had as much success.

In this election, Padmaja is trying her luck from Thrissur, a seat in central Kerala that she had lost in 2016 to the CPI’s V S Sunil Kumar. It was a shock defeat, by 6,987 votes, from a constituency considered a Congress stronghold with a large share of Hindu upper-caste and Christian voters. Moreover, it had been held since 1991 onwards by Karunakaran loyalist Therambil Ramakrishnan. Thrissur was from where Karunakaran started building his political base, to become one of the tallest leaders of the Congress in the state.

That was the second poll shock for Padmaja after her loss in 2004 in her electoral debut, from the erstwhile Mukundapuram Lok Sabha constituency. Padmaja lost to Lonappan Nambadan of the CPM by over 1 lakh votes, in a constituency that was again considered safe for her, as it had been represented by Karunakaran from 1999 to 2004.

For over a decade, Padmaja, stung by the defeat in Mukundapuram, stayed away from electoral politics, even as the Congress went through a great deal of churning and intense factionalism. During this time, Muraleedharan, elder to Padmaja by three years, stole a march on her in claiming Karunakaran’s legacy, becoming the state president of the Congress and a multiple-term MLA and MP.

Currently an MP from Vadakara in north Kerala, Muraleedharan took up the Nemom ticket for the party after several senior Congress leaders backed out.

This time, Padmaja probably faces her toughest electoral contest. Thrissur is up for a thrilling triangular fight, between her, the CPI’s popular local face P Balachandran and actor and BJP Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi.

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