Sharafuddin runs a tea shop in Walayar near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border in Palakkad district. He is 58. He sells lottery tickets too.
Next to his shop are 63-year-old Vijayakumar’s lottery stall and 60-year-old Narayanan Kutty’s tea-cum-lottery shop. They are residents of Walayar village in Palakkad district.
The shops were reopened just two months ago after locking them down for eight months due to COVID-19. Sales are yet to pick up and the earnings have gone down to half of what they used to make before the advent of the pandemic.
This worries them the most these days. So they are not sweltering under the poll heat that is soaring proportionately with the day-temperature in Palakkad.
But they vouch for Communist Party of India (Marxist) victory in their Malampuzha constituency.
“No other party is going to win here,” Vijayakumar said. “This is CPM’s own seat.”
A CPM citadel
Malampuzha has been electing CPM representatives ever since the constituency was created in 1965.
CPM leaders E K Nayanar, T Sivadasa Menon and V S Achuthanandan had represented the constituency in the past.
Incumbent and former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan set a record of sorts by representing the constituency four consecutive terms, starting from 2001 to 2021 (20 years).
The constituency, which would have otherwise witnessed inconsequential fights, rose to prominence this time with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reportedly devising strategies for an upset win.
BJP’s calculations were based on its gains in the 2016 Assembly and 2020 local body polls.
BJP’s C Krishnakumar finished second, behind V S Achuthanandan in the 2016 Assembly election. VS garnered 73,299 votes (43.16%) while Krishnakumar got 46,157 votes (29%) votes. Congress candidate V S Joy finished third with 35,333 votes (22.25%).
The BJP performed well in the 2020 local body election. It emerged as the principal opposition party in Akathethara and Malampuzha gram panchayats for the first time apart from the good show in Elappully.
“We are taking the fight in Malampuzha and Palakkad constituencies seriously. We can win those two seats,” said BJP’s Palakkad district president E Krishnadas.
He drew parallels between Tripura and Malampuzha. “From no seats, BJP captured power in Tripura. The scenario was similar in Malampuzha. We were not a serious player a few years ago, but now we are the second largest party in the constituency. We will win the seat if we put a concerted effort. Our cadres are on the ground. We will make it this time,” he said.
BJP has already launched the election campaign though the party has not officially announced candidates.
This correspondent saw several graffiti exhorting voters to elect the BJP candidate in Malampuzha constituency.
“We launched the campaign last week. BJP graffiti can be seen all over the constituency,” said Pramod, president of the BJP Malampuzha constituency committee.
Numbers against BJP
But the numbers are heavily stacked against the BJP.
Of the eight gram panchayats that fall under the constituency, seven are ruled by the LDF while the remaining one is ruled by the UDF.
Going by the number of wards, LDF leads the tally with 83 wards followed by UDF on 32 and BJP-led coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on 26 wards.
That is why CPM does not care much about BJP’s claims about victory.
“LDF candidate will win Malampuzha easily. BJP is not a force to reckon with here,” said CPM district secretary C K Rajendran.
He blamed weakness of Congress for BJP’s growing clout in three gram panchayats (Akathethara, Malampuzha and Elampully).
“BJP’s growth will not affect CPM or the LDF. Because BJP could not grow in our strongholds. They are making inroads in Congress strongholds,” Rajendran said.
LDF just managed to retain power with the support of an independent in Malampuzha gram panchayat. BJP emerged as the second largest party here.
The Left coalition lost the reign of Elappully gram panchayat this time after being in power for 43 years and the Congress-led UDF is in power now.
Home to Ramassery Idli
Ramassery village, which is home to the delicious, flatter Idlis named after the village, is in Elappully gram panchayat. Only four families here make the feathery and fluffy Idli that has fans across the world.
The Idli is made of rice, urad dal, fenugreek and salt. “The Idli has a shelf life of 24 hours and that is its speciality,” said Jeevanandan, who runs Sankar Vilas tea shop in Ramassery. “We don’t add chemicals to the batter, and hence the prolonged shelf life,” he said.
Those who cook and sell Ramassery Idli appear to be not keen on elections because of the unkept promises by the politicians.
Jeevanandan too had an experience. “Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac came here and tasted Ramassery Idli. He promised us to help set up a unit with the support from the district administration. But it still remains a promise,” he said.
He said political parties come up with a lot of promises during election time. “But they seldom keep their promises,” he said.
Walayar mother’s protests
Another issue that will figure prominently in Malampuzha and other constituencies in Kerala is the ongoing protest by the mother of two girls from Walayar, who were allegedly raped and killed in 2017. The suspects are CPM members.
The mother is a voter in Malampuzha constituency.
On March 2, she tonsured her head demanding action against the investigating officers who scuttled the probe. She now plans to tour Kerala to garner public support.
The elder girl was found dead in her home on January 13, 2017. Her younger sister, aged 9, was found dead 54 days later on March 4 inside the same home.
On October 28, 2019, the Special POCSO Court (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) of Palakkad district acquitted three of the accused – V Madhu, M Madhu and Shibu – for want of evidence. The court had acquitted another accused – Pradeep Kumar – on September 30. He died by suicide on November 4, 2020.
On January 6, 2021, Kerala High Court ordered the retrial into the case. The court observed that there were serious lapses in the investigation and that there has been a miscarriage of justice.
The state government recently ordered a CBI inquiry into the deaths after several months of protests by the mother.
“I have tonsured my head not because of the election. Government had enough time to take action against the police officers who derailed the probe till the election date was announced,” said the mother.
“I had vowed to shave my head if the government did not take a positive decision. I also decided to travel across Kerala to tell people about my travails.”
She said she is not concerned about who will win or lose the election. “My only concern is that no family should be forced to protest like this for justice. Those who scuttled the probe should be punished,” she said.
CPM’s Pudussery Area Committee secretary Subash Chandra Bose accused UDF and BJP of unnecessarily putting the blame on the CPM. “The failure of prosecution to prove the case should not be put on CPM. The state government had done every possible thing to ensure justice to the victims. This should not be politicised,” he said.
The Congress apparently is planning to highlight the mother’s protest to show how Pinarayi mishandled the case.
“Pinarayi Vijayan should not have rewarded the officials who scuttled the probe into Walayar kids’ death. It shows how unprofessionally he handled the home department,” said Congress MLA from Palakkad Shafi Parambil.