Two adjacent Assembly constituencies of Pala and Poonjar in central Kerala will decide the fate of three regional political satraps.
In Pala, Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K Mani, who led his party into the LDF camp from the UDF, is taking on Mani C Kappan, the sitting MLA and chairman of the NCP-Kerala. Kappan shifted to the UDF after the LDF gave Pala ticket to the KC(M), floating the NCP-Kerala.
In Poonjar, another former KC(M) leader, and six-time legislator, P C George is trying to make his mark. In 2016, George had contested as an Independent, while during the Lok Sabha polls, he had a brief stint in the NDA. Now, he has floated the Kerala Janapaksham (Secular).
The result in Pala will determine Jose’s command over the Christian vote in central Kerala and whether he is the rightful heir to his father the late K M Mani, who had represented Pala for 54 years till his death in 2019. In the bypoll following the senior Mani’s death, Kappan, then with the LDF, had wrested the seat.
For Jose, the newfound home in the LDF is on shaky ground as Left voters have been opposed to his father here. Jose’s campaign has been keeping references to the senior Mani to the minimum.
Both the CPM and KC(M) are hoping that the recent local body elections, where the LDF increased its tally in Pala, were a harbinger of a new relationship.
However, says Rajappan, a rubber-tapping labourer in Pala, the Assembly elections are a different matter. “LDF leaders do not want to accommodate the KC(M)… Besides, neutral voters are sympathetic towards Kappan as he has performed well in the last 15 months,” he says.
Besides, Kappan is aiming for the sympathy vote, playing up the fact that he was forced out of the LDF after KC(M) entry, and talking of UDF promises like Rs 250 per kg MSP for rubber. Rubber is among the major sources of income in central Kerala, and the LDF recently hiked MSP to
Rs 170/kg. One of the seats where Rahul Gandhi came to campaign in Kerala was Pala.
The LDF’s Joyce George’s remarks on Rahul, as “unmarried trouble maker”, in connection with his interaction with students of a women’s college, have also not gone down well with voters.
P T Mathew, a KC(M) sympathiser at Ramapuram, says Jose has another drawback: the lack of connect with voters, unlike his father. “We can’t predict voters’ minds in the new scenario.”
Embarrassing the LDF, Jose has now raised the ‘love jihad’ issue, with an aim to consolidate Hindu and Christian votes. With only a few hundred Muslim votes, Jose is gambling he doesn’t have much to lose in adopting a BJP theme.
In neighbouring Poonjar, P C George could have expected an easy win in a bid to win a seventh term as MLA, after having won as an Independent beating the UDF, LDF and NDA last time. However, the Kerala Janapaksham (Secular) chairman is facing Muslim anger for an audio clip where he is heard saying he does not want the votes of “Muslims extremists who bomb Christians”. George later apologised.
Poonjar has around 24,000 Muslim voters, against 90,000 Christian and 85,000 Hindu voters. The UDF, LDF and BJP have all fielded senior candidates.
Amanulla, a trader at Erattupetta, says, “We all supported George… But this time he is unlikely to get Muslim support.”
George, whose margin was 27,000 last time, says he is confident. “I don’t want the votes of extremists. They are trying to disrupt my campaign. In fact, my support among Hindus and Christians has grown due to the stand against extremism.”