Two major fronts see a shift in loyalty among constituents, draw battle lines
Green-capped mountains and light showers, accompanied by cool breeze in the evenings, have helped Idukki maintain a façade of tranquillity this summer. But, beneath the calm is simmering a high-octane political battle.
From construction ban to title deeds and agrarian distress to a split in the Kerala Congress (M), issues abound its poll-scape, which began heating up much before the official announcement of the Assembly elections. At the same time, this also happens to be a battle where pressure groups other than major outfits such as the High Range Protection Council and the Pembilai Orumai do not have much of a role to play. The Catholic Church, which has been in the forefront of several public agitations over the decades, remains surprisingly silent this time.
While the battle across the five Assembly segments here is primarily between the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front, the stage is set for a direct fight between rival Kerala Congress groups in two seats. The LDF, which had won three seats in 2016, later added one more to its tally with the KC(M) switching sides.
The UDF, which currently has just one seat, seeks to leverage the anger against the construction ban on buildings and the anti-incumbency factor to work in its favour. The coalition’s performance across the region primarily depends on the Kerala Congress led by P.J. Joseph, which commands a significant presence here.
The LDF, on the other hand, counts on the development projects initiated across the region and the distribution of title deeds and welfare pension. However, the controversy over former MP Joice George’s derogatory remarks about Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appears to have dealt a major blow to its election campaign in the final lap.
NDA’s poll plank
The National Democratic Alliance is yet to gain a foothold across the region barring some pockets. Welfare programmes rolled out by the NDA government at the Centre and the issues concerning the plantation sector form the core of its election poll plank.
Of the five Assembly constituencies, Thodupuzha is witnessing a battle between Mr. Joseph and K.I. Antony of the Kerala Congress (M). In Idukki, it is a role reversal of sorts with the UDF’s Francis George, who was the LDF candidate last time, facing KC(M) leader Roshy Augustine, who contested for the UDF in 2016.
Udumbanchola, where farmers and plantation workers hold sway, is hosting a fight between CPI(M) strongman M.M. Mani and former legislator E.M. Augusthi of the Congress. The two coalitions stand neck and neck in Peerumedu where the LDF won the last election by a margin of 314 votes. The entry of two candidates of Tamil origin in both sides has added a new dimension to the fight in Devikulam.
Though the UDF had held a considerable lead over the Left front across all five Assembly segments in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the LDF managed to retain some of its lost ground during the recent local body polls.
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