Kerala votes on 26 April; UDF looks strong

The LDF believes it can win more than 1 seat this time, given its 2021 Assembly election victory

Rahul Gandhi during his campaign in Wayanad (photo: INC)
Rahul Gandhi during his campaign in Wayanad (photo: INC)

Ashlin Mathew

The curtains have fallen on the high-voltage campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in Kerala as the state goes to vote on Friday, 26 April. There are two union ministers, a state minister, three actors and a Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is hoping to better its count by winning all the 20 seats in the state. In 2019, they had won all constituencies save Alappuzha where this time they have fielded AICC General Secretary (Organisation) KC Venugopal to wrest the seat from CPI(M).

Left Democratic Front (LDF) believes they stand a better chance this time of winning more than one Lok Sabha seat after having won the 2021 Assembly elections in the state. They have fielded several popular incumbent MLAs to contest the general elections, including former health minister KK Shailaja.

BJP has never won a seat in the general elections in the state and this time they are hoping to turn that around. Two union ministers – V Muraleedharan and Rajeev Chandrasekhar – are in the fray, but the saffron party is pinning its hopes on actor-turned politician Suresh Gopi to clock their maiden win in the state from Thrissur.

More than 2.75 crore voters are eligible to vote in the state, of which more than five lakh are first-time voters. More than 22,000 NRIs have arrived to exercise their franchise in Kerala, which has 89,839 registered NRI voters, according to the state's Chief Electoral Officer.

There are 194 candidates in fray for the 20 seats and Kottayam constituency has the highest number of candidates at 14, followed by 13 in Kozhikode and 12 in Kollam and Kannur. Alathur has the lowest with just five candidates. Of these, 169 are men and 25 are women. Vadakkara, where CPI(M) MLA KK Shailaja is contesting from, has the highest number of women candidates at four.

The Election Commission has deployed 66,303 security personnel for polling in a total of 25,231 booths at 13,272 locations.

There is an intense contest in the state capital Thuruvanthapuram, Thrissur, Vadakkara and Kannur constituencies. Here’s a low down on all the 20 constituencies:

Rahul Gandhi speaks to Congress supporters
Rahul Gandhi speaks to Congress supporters

1. Thiruvananthapuram

In the state capital, Congress leader and incumbent three-time MP Shashi Tharoor is in a contest against senior CPI leader and former MP Pannyan Raveendran and Union minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar. The contest is between Tharoor and Raveendran.

While Chandrasekhar has spent a lot of money on his campaign as is evident when one travels around Thiruvananthapuram, he has failed to garner popular support. Former MP Raveendran is known to be a people’s person and hence has traction amongst common people.

However, Tharoor is banking on his work in the constituency, people-connect and anti-LDF government sentiment. He is on a slightly sticky wicket regarding his stand on Vizhinjam port as staunch Congress supporters populate the coastal belt.

 2. Attingal

BJP has sent its Union minister V Muraleedharan to contest here against incumbent Congress MP Adoor Prakash and CPM district secretary and Varkala MLA V Joy. Muraleedharan landed in the constituency with high hopes of making it a triangular contest; however, he failed to emerge as a strong candidate.

UDF and Prakash are banking on his reputation and work in the constituency to win, while LDF’s Joy is hoping him being a resident of the constituency will work in his favour. The constituency had voted for the CPI(M) candidate in 2014 and 2009 elections.

 3. Kollam

For CPI(M), Kollam is a jilted lover. UDF member and current MP NK Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party used to be part of the LDF alliance in the state. RSP walked out of the alliance in 2014 after CPI(M) arbitrarily, in a move to cut down Premachandran, announced a candidate for the 2014 elections. The party tied up with UDF and won the seat in both 2014 and 2019.

To counter him, LDF has fielded popular actor and CPI(M) MLA Mukesh. He has support amongst the women voters.

BJP’s candidate is actor G Krishnakumar is unlikely to be of any consequence as he doesn’t have the support of the local BJP members and they even orchestrated an attack against him. He had fought the 2021 Assembly election in Thiruvananthapuram and came third.

4. Pathanamthitta

The presence of high profile CPI(M) leader Thomas Issac as the candidate ensured dynamic campaigning in the constituency and BJP pinned its hopes on Anil K Antony, the son of veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister AK Antony. Anil Antony’s gaffes and accusation of corruption against him has ensured BJP will come third this time too in the constituency.

Congress fielded its three-time incumbent MP Anto Antony this time too. Though the voters of the constituency are disgruntled with him, several voters are likely to overlook it to ensure one more seat for the Congress and UDF. Priyanka Gandhi’s campaign has worked in his favour. 

5. Mavelikara

Three-time Mavelikara Congress MP Kodikkunnil Suresh will face newbie LDF and CPI leader CA Arunkumar. NDA has fielded Baiju Kalashala, who was formerly with Congress, and had joined Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) from here.

6. Alappuzha

The lone seat which CPI(M) won in the 2019 general elections. Rajya SAbha MP and Congress GSO KC Venugopal is here to wrest it from LDF. Though known to be a Communist bastion, KCV has always won both Assembly (three times) and general elections (twice) from this constituency.

BJP has fielded Shobha Surendran, who is known for her venomous speeches, from this constituency. She also got union home minister Amit Shah to campaign for her. A defamation case has been filed against her by KCV for accusing him of amassing wealth through collusion with the mining mafia. 

7. Kottayam

The battle here is interesting because of the splintering of the Kerala Congress groups and after 44 years there is set to be a direct confrontation between two Kerala Congress factions. Here, Kerala Congress (J) deputy chairman K Francis George will take on LDF member and sitting MP Thomas Chazhikadan of the Kerala Congress (M).

NDA candidate is BDJS president Thushar Vellapally and he is expected to get some of the LDF votes in this constituency.

8. Idukki

Congress leader Dean Kuriakose won this constituency in 2019 with a record margin of 1,71,053 votes. Though LDF announced its candidate Joyce George quite early, it has not had the desired momentum here. NDA's Sangeeta Viswanathan is a non-starter.

It is a constituency which has a lot of human-animal conflict and people are upset with the state LDF government for not resolving these issues and the LDF has not been able to move past these issues.

9. Ernakulam 

This constituency is Congress leader and incumbent MP Hibi Eden’s bastion and Ernakulam has traditionally sided with the Congress. LDF’s candidate KJ Shine led a energy-driven campaign and BJP’s candidate Dr KS Radhakrishnan doesn’t even have enough party cadres in the constituency.

10. Chalakudy

UDF holds sway here and sitting MP Benny Behanan is popular. There is Kitex Garments-supported Twenty20 party in the fray here with Charlie Paul as its candidate. LDF’s candidate former state education minister C Ravindranath and KA Unnikrishnan  of the BDJS is the NDA candidate. 

11. Thrissur

A tight race is on the cards in this constituency between UDF candidate and Congress leader K. Muraleedharan, the LDF's V.S. Sunil Kumar and the BJP's Suresh Gopi.

BJP is hoping against hope to win the constituency backed by actor-turned-politician Gopi’s women supporters, but Muraleedharan has support in the coastal belt and Ollur. Sunil is well-loved by all in the constituency. But, Karuvannur Cooperative Bank scam with several CPI(M) leaders having been involved has become an Achilles heel for LDF here.

Thrissur electorate is known to be temperamental.

12. Alathur

Kerala's minister for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes, and temple affairs K Radhakrishnan is the LDF candidate, while Congress has fielded sitting MP Ramya Haridas to win again from here. She is the lone woman candidate fielded by Congress and UDF this general election in the state.

Haridas faces troubles from the party organisational structure, but people seem to love her and she is campaigning with vigour. In 2019, she won the constituency by defeating two-time MP PK Biju by 1,58,968 votes. This constituency is considered to be a Left bastion. Farmers in the district are upset with Radhakrishnan as the government has not been able to resolve their issues.

TN Sarasu is the BJP candidate here, whose only campaign point is PM Narendra Modi.

13. Palakkad

Incumbent MP and Congress leader VK Sreekandan has been pitted against A Vijayaraghavan of the CPI(M) and C Krishnakumar of the BJP. Sreekandan is known to be popular and there is an anti-government sentiment in the constituency.

14. Ponnani

This is one of the bastions of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and its candidate is veteran MP Abdussamad Samadan. He is facing former League leader KS Hamza, who is contesting on the CPI(M) ticket.

Here, BJP’s candidate is its state Mahila Morcha president Nivedita Subramanian.

15. Malappuram

This is another strong hold of IUML where veteran IUML leader E.T. Mohammed Basheer is contesting, after having won thrice from Ponnani. This time his opponents are LDF’s V Wasif and BJP’s Dr M. Abdul Salam.

LDF attempted to create a confusion stating that IUML’s alliance partner Congress did not have a stand on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), it was quickly countered by Rahul Gandhi in his speech in Kozhikode. 

16. Kozhikode

Four-time MP M.K. Raghavan is the Congress candidate and the party is hoping to win based on his popularity. LDF has fielded Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem from here. BJP has fielded M.T. Ramesh, who had contested in the 2021 Assembly elections and lost.

17. Wayanad 

The constituency that faces the most high-profile battle between incumbent MP and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, CPI’s Annie Raja and the BJP’s K. Surendran. 

While Gandhi’s opponents have attempted to highlight his irregular presence in the constituency, the only question here is the precise turnout on voting day as the election result is a foregone conclusion.

18. Vadakkara

This is the other district that has become a battle of prestige for the CPI(M). They have fielded former health minister and Mattannur MLA KKShailaja. Congress replaced sitting MP K Muraleedharan with Palakkad MLA Shafi Parambil here and the constituency has seen one of the most high-decibel campaigns.

BJP has fielded its Yuva Morcha leader CR Praphul Krishnan and he hardly known in the constituency.

As Shailaja’s name was announced first, LDF seemed to have an upper-hand, which withered away once Shafi’s name was announced. That he enjoys popular support can be seen from his campaign rallies.

Shailaja’s campaign took a downturn after she claimed UDF was spreading an obscene video of hers, then she backtracked and later she said she stood by her words. This has seemingly boomeranged. The recent death of a CPI(M) worker while making a bomb in Panur has also worked against her.

What makes this constituency important for CPI(M) is because its former leader TP Chandrasekharan was hacked to death when he broke away from the party to form another party. Several CPI(M) workers were arrested for his murder. His wife KK Rema has consistently campaigned against CPI(M) here and is now also a UDF MLA.  

19. Kannur

KPCC president and incumbent MP K Sudhakaran is contesting against CPI(M) Kannur district secretary MV Jayarajan. There is disgruntlement against Sudhakaran for not having performed, but the Congress hopes to win. CPI(M) is banking on its traditional vote base to sail them through.

20. Kasargod

Congress leader and incumbent MP Rajmohan Unnithan is popular in the constituency, but his LDF opponent MV Balakrishnan has run a strong campaign against him. This is also a constituency where LDF has a large number of traditional voters, but Unnithan has supporters across party lines and amongst minorities.

BJP fielded a young teacher ML Ashwini from here and union minister Smriti Irani had come to campaign for her. She is known to switch between Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu in this border town and that has helped her in this Left bastion.

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