Kerala: UDF poised to give tough fight to ruling LDF

Political pundits across the state and on social media might claim that the LDF is winning, but on the ground UDF is gaining amongst the voters. The situation is fluid

Kerala: UDF poised to give tough fight to ruling LDF

Ashlin Mathew

The moment you step out of Nedumbassery airport in Kerala, a series of huge hoardings every few hundred metres with the Chief Minister’s visage would have you believe that Left Democratic Front (LDF) is the only prominent political force. The truth, however, may be different.

As one travels from Nedumbassery in Aluva Assembly constituency to Thiruvalla assembly constituency through Kottayam, it becomes evident that the political situation is fluid. Several people have not yet made up their mind and most know the UDF candidate in their localities.

The regions on this road fall in the Central Travancore area, which has traditionally been pro-United Democratic Front (UDF), but the LDF has been hoping to turn the tide here, buoyed by the gains in local body elections in these areas.

Even though there are hardly any hoarding of UDF from the airport to Aluva Junction, the UDF candidate Anwar Sadath’s victory here is certain, say locals. “The LDF candidate here is a woman, Shelna Nishad, who has no connection with the place. She is from Bangalore and the daughter-in-law of former Congress MLA K Muhammad Ali. Sadath will come anywhere you call. He is there at every function, every marriage. He is always ready to help,” said Dhanesh, a taxi driver from Aluva.

He added that it is better for taxi drivers if UDF comes to power as they will be left alone and won’t be forced to contribute to collection drives.

“But in other parts we have to see how UDF fares as there is a lot of factionalism and everyone is fighting. If they get their act together, they stand a chance to win. The UDF manifesto has a lot of good points and they have said they will enact NYAY, which gives Rs 6,000 to poor families,” added Dhanesh.

Sarita, a Kerala State Electricity Board employee, said she hadn’t made up her mind yet. “VD Satheesan of the UDF is the candidate from my constituency Paravur and he is the current MLA. He has been our MLA for four terms. I don’t know who is the LDF candidate for this Assembly election. We will wait for the last few days to see how the campaign is,” pointed out Sarita, who was on her way home from her office in Thrissur to Paravur. Her name has been changed on request as she is a government employee.

Vasu, the conductor on the bus, after overhearing the conversation chimed in. “In my constituency Thripunithura, UDF’s K. Babu used to win until the bar bribery scam. LDF’s M Swaraj cashed in on that and won the seat last time. He is contesting this time too. But this time around, it is UDF’s turn to win,” said Vasu.

An auto-rickshaw driver at Kacheripadi in Ernakulam, Vinu, whose vote is in Kochi, is waiting to hear about LDF and UDF promises. “Former Kochi Mayor Tony Chammany is the UDF candidate, and the sitting MLA KJ Maxi is the LDF candidate. I haven’t decided yet. Many of us have not, as we are waiting to see what both LDF and UDF will promise. Depending on who will give us more benefits, we will vote,” said Vinu. His auto was one of the few which did not have the LDF auto cover.

At the Ernakulam South bus stand, Parvathy and Indu were waiting to catch a bus to Thrissur. “We had come for some personal work here. At Thrissur, we have started to hear UDF candidate Padmaja Venugopal’s announcements. Her party workers seem to be proactive. LDF doesn’t have a chance. The BJP candidate is Suresh Gopi, but we have not seen him or his party members canvassing for votes,” underscored Parvathy, who is in her mid-forties.

On the road from Ernakulam to Kottayam, posters of KC (M)’s candidates can be seen all through the way with the two leaves symbol. They are a part of LDF this election after Jose K Mani joining it in October 2020, just two months before the Panchayat elections. They had been a part of UDF for decades.

However, after his move to LDF, KC (M) got overwhelming support in the Travancore and the high ranges (Peermade, Kothamangalam, Kumily) in the Panchayat elections. This has given hope to LDF for the Assembly elections too.

Crossing Thalayolaparabu in Kottayam district but belonging to Vaikom Assembly constituency, the bus driver Shaji said, “LDF’s CK Asha is the incumbent. LDF has always won this seat since mid 1990s. She is contesting this time too. UDF has also fielded a woman PR Sona. She was the former Kottayam municipal chairperson. LDF has always won the seat but Sona was a good corporator. It will be a good contest.”

At Kaduthuruthy Assembly seat in Kottayam district, Mons Joseph is the current MLA. He used to be with KC (M) but after the death of KM Mani, when the party split into Mani faction and PJ Joseph faction, he joined hands with Joseph. He resigned from his seat to avoid complications in contesting the current elections. As of now the P.J. Joseph faction does not have a symbol. KC (M) has fielded Stephen George from Kaduthuruthy.

“Don’t go by posters. LDF has a lot of money and Congress and UDF have no money. Posters are not the decisive factor in who we will vote for. In Kaduthuruthy, Mons is a force to reckon with. He can be with any party, but he has worked for the people here. The fight in KC (M) was distasteful,” said Shiny, who was on her way to Changanassery.

At Thiruvalla, LDF’s Mathew T Thomas belonging to Janata Dal is the candidate. He has been winning since 2006, before which it was the united KC(M) seat in UDF.

“Mathew T Thomas has been extremely lucky. He hasn’t done much work except for roads. It took him 18 years to build the Bypass here. It was completed only two weeks ago. Mammen Mathai of KC (M) had started the project, but he had died a premature death in 2003. Even after being the Transport Minister, Thomas could not speed up the project. Even this bypass has issues. On a 2.3 km road, there are six signals,” said TP Mathew, who was waiting for his daughter at Thiruvalla.

However, this time Mathew T Thomas faces anti-incumbency and UDF’s candidate Kunju Koshy Paul had begun canvassing in his hometown Mallapally. “We had voted for LDF for the Panchayat elections. We had planned to vote for LDF, but now UDF has given the ticket to Kunju Koshy Paul. He is a good worker in Mallapally and a calm and friendly man. He has helped people in my area,” said Mini, who is from Mallapally.

Political pundits across the state and on social media might claim that the LDF is winning, but on the ground, amongst the people UDF is gaining ground. The situation is fluid. The manifesto of both parties will determine the result.

Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi is expected to campaign in the state extensively. He will be campaigning in Kochi and Alappuzha on Monday, March 22. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Gandhi’s candidature had revitalised the poll campaign.

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