Kerala polls: UDF may spring a surprise in Pathanamthitta

Rahul Gandhi’s entry into the campaign has created waves in Konni and Pathnamthitta. In both places, it was not just Congress supporters who turned up. A large number of people came on their own

Kerala polls: UDF may spring a surprise in Pathanamthitta

Ashlin Mathew

Just before the election was announced, all the five Assembly seats in Pathanamthitta district were meant to be a cakewalk for the ruling Left Democratic Party and CPI(M). Of the five – Aranmula, Konni, Adoor, Ranni and Thiruvalla – at least Ranni, Aranmula, and Thiruvalla can see surprise wins by Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

Chances of UDF win are increasing by the day. This being a predominantly Christian belt, the mood shift was enabled by reports that there was a secret pact between Bharatiya Janata Party and CPI(M) for a few seats. “Just before the election was announced, people were satisfied with the welfare schemes, but since then several corruption cases of the government and the UDF’s campaign and the citizens belief that Sabarimala should not have been made political have been playing on the minds of people,” underscored MD Binu, the bureau chief of Madhyamam newspaper in Pathanamthitta.

In addition to it, the Congress manifesto promising welfare schemes and former Congress president and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi’s road show have helped to churn the political cauldron.

In 2016, LDF had won four of these seats and Konni was retained by Adoor Prakash for the fifth consecutive term with a margin of 20,748 votes. Once he won the Lok Sabha seat from Attingal, he had to give up the seat. It was then won by CPI(M)’s Janeesh Kumar.

In Aranmula, in 2016 CPI(M)’s Veena George had won with 64,523 votes and LDF has fielded her this time too. Then the Orthodox church to which she belongs and holds considerable sway in the region had campaigned for her. They had made announcements in the local churches and church members were part of outreach campaigns. She has her positive image in her favour as she has done development works in the region.

This time, BJP too has fielded an Orthodox church member Biju Mathew. However, after burning their fingers with the government on Orthodox-Jacobite church struggle, the Orthodox church has shown inclination towards UDF. They have not released any statement for any candidate. Though the church wants to keep the BJP humoured, they are still reluctant to support the saffron party. Additionally, UDF under Oommen Chandy’s leadership had attempted to solve the church dispute amicably.

Congress has fielded K Sivadasan Nair, who was the runner-up in 2016 Assembly election. He had won the Aranmula seat in 2011. This time, the only Nair candidate is Sivadasan Nair of the Congress, so a lot of the Hindu votes, which could have gone to BJP, will be cast in favour of UDF. The NSS votes will not go to the LDF candidate. As the church has not said anything specifically, Christians in the area will vote based on the candidate and it could lead to a split in votes.

During the 2011 Assembly elections, BJP’s MT Ramesh had got more than 37,906 votes in Aranmula and during the Assembly byelection in 2019 BJP candidate K Surendran had gotten 39,786 votes. During the Lok Sabha elections, Surendran had got more than 51,000 votes from Aranmula, which falls in Pathanamthitta district. BJP’s vote share will fall further this time as there is no high-profile candidate in Aranmula.

“While in Aranmula it is a religious fight, in Konni it is a tight political fight. Here it is a seemingly three-way contest between LDF’s MLA Janeesh Kumar, UDF’s Robin Peter and BJP Kerala President K Surendran. People in Konni like Robin Peter as he works on the ground and helps anyone in need. He doesn’t look at the background to help. Sabarimala is not an issue here at all,” said Binu.

Konni used to be UDF’s Adoor Prakash bastion and Robin Peter is his protégé. Prakash had represented Konni constituency for five terms, from 1996 to 2016. During the 2019 byelection, MLA Janeesh Kumar won because there was cross voting from the UDF camp as the Congress candidate was P Mohanraj. Peter had been aiming for the seat for a few years and as a result of factionalism within UDF, Mohanraj lost.

After his bypoll win in 2019, Janeesh Kumar has worked hard on the ground. Konni has a lot of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) supports and majority of them are LDF supporters. But, some of those votes go to UDF as well.

Konni residents already think that K Surendran will lose and hence there is no need to vote for him. There is a belief that he will let go of the seat as he would prefer to be Manjeshwar MLA as he is a Kozhikode resident. Surendran is likely to get fewer votes than what he got during the byelection.

The Protestant Pentecostal church has a huge following in Konni. Their votes are likely to go to Robin Peter. The Nair votes in the region are still dicey as during the bypolls, Peter had worked against the Nair candidate P Mohanraj. The NSS is still smarting from this, but they will still not vote for LDF. These votes will get split on an individual level with some for Robin Peter and rest for Surendran. This would make Surendran third in the race.

“However, Adoor Prakash has been campaigning extensively in the area. He has been attending several corner meetings. In the Panchayat elections, LDF had gained, but with Prakash’s campaigning, the contest has heated up,” explained Binu

In Adoor, which is a Scheduled Caste seat, it is a political fight. This is usually a Left bastion. CPI’s current MLA C Gopakumar has won twice from the region, but there is anti-incumbency working against him. Gopakumar does not have any notable achievement to show and can only talk about the LDF government.

UDF has fielded a strong Youth congress leader MG Kannan, who has been working hard in this constituency. Youth Congress has made considerable inroads in the locality and additionally they have reached out to local residents,” maintained Binu. UDF won this seat last in 2006 when Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan was the candidate. It used to be UDF’s bastion, but no longer.

BJP has fielded former KPCC secretary and Congress worker Pandalam Prathapan as the candidate. He is the younger brother of former UDF minister Pandalam Sudhakaran. His move to BJP has upset both the local Congress and BJP workers, both of whom are working against him. He had said he had switched because he was sure he would be denied a ticket in Congress.

Ranni has voted for CPI(M) candidate Raju Abraham for 25 years, but this time LDF gave the seat to Kerala Congress (Mani) group. KC(M) has fielded their general secretary PN Pramod Narayanan. AS the LDF denied the ticket to Ranni’s favourite Abraham, the CPI(M) workers in the area are up in arms and the Christians are upset over the fielding of a Hindu candidate.

Congress has fielded Ringoo Cherian, who works hard on the ground. He is known amongst people and is a Christian. The ground is fluid, but Rahul Gandhi’s road show and meeting in Ranni drew a large crowd. In all of Pathanamthitta district, Rahul Gandhi drew the largest crowds in Ranni. Political watchers said this is a sign of which way the wind is blowing.

It is worth remembering that though CPI(M) candidate has consistently won the Assembly seat, UDF won the Lok Sabha Election. LDF’s Peelipose Thomas, who was with the Congress till 2014, had lost out to Anto Anthony.

NDA ally Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) has fielded K Padmakumar, who has negligible presence in the minds of the voters.

Thiruvalla is the dark horse in the race. No one quite knows if LDF or UDF will win, but BJP stands no chance. In both LDF and UDF camps, the seat has always been given to smaller allies. From LDF, Janata Dal (Secular) contests from here, while from the UDF, Kerala Congress (Joseph) group has been allotted the seat.

From JD(S), Mathew T Thomas has won the seat thrice and is the also the current transport minister. He is contesting for the fourth term. However, there is dis-satisfaction against him amongst the local voters. His notable achievement after 15 years is just the Thiruvalla bypass and that too was completed only two weeks ago. Thomas has no other achievement to show.

Kunjukoshy Paul is the UDF candidate. He has supporters in his locality Mallapally, which is a suburb of Thiruvalla. Local Mallapally citizens who had voted for LDF during the Panchayat elections have shown an inclination towards Paul. But, Paul doesn’t have much support in Niranam and Kaloopara areas where he is still relatively new, but has support in Venikulam, Kavumbhagom and Mallapally.

BJP has fielded its district president Ashok Kulanada in Thiruvalla, but this has displeased all the sections in BJP, especially the women. BJP’s Youth Wing leader Anoop Anthony had been nursing this constituency. He had done much of the ground work before he was sent to contest from Alappuzha district’s Ambalappuzha constituency.

This has upset BJP’s apple cart in Thiruvalla. In 2016, BDJS had contested this seat and had polled 31,439 votes. “More than half of these votes are likely to be split and is likely to end up being the deciding factor in Thiruvalla,” pointed out Binu.

It is into this political churn that Rahul Gandhi stepped into campaign and created waves in Konni and Pathnamthitta. Unlike Ranni, where both Congress workers and local families had turned up to listen to Rahul Gandhi, in both Konni and Pathanamthitta, only people who had heard about the programme turned up.

“The crowd that turned up on its own was considerable in number. The Congress candidates here did not get their workers on trucks for the roadshow or Rahul Gandhi’s corner meeting. They have no money. Congress candidates stand a chance to win if they are able to reach out to all the local residents. People are willing to vote, but somebody should reach them and ask them to vote,” said a senior political journalist from Pathanamthitta.

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Published: 28 Mar 2021, 8:13 PM