For decades, central Kerala, especially Kottayam district, has been touted as a stronghold for the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The 'safe zone' of central Kerala has a huge role in Congress's plan to wrest power in the state during the coming assembly polls. With the grand old party wilting in its bastions across India, the Congress hopes are largely pinned on Kerala for a revival.
Ironically, the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) is also banking on Central Kerala this time to make history in the state by retaining power in the April elections. No front has won elections in Kerala in two consecutive terms till now.
What triggered LDF's hope in Central Kerala is the recently-held local body election results, in which the LDF made significant improvement in the region with the help of recently-inducted ally Jose K Mani group of Kerala Congress. The performance of LDF in Kottayam district will play a crucial role in the front forming the next government in the state.
In the 2016 polls, despite a major pro-Left wave, results from Kottayam were the worst for the LDF among other Central Kerala districts. It won just two seats in the district out of nine. In 2016, the LDF had made major gains in Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Idukki while showing a commendable performance in Ernakulam district. This time, however, the LDF expects anti-incumbency factor to dent its clout in the four neighbouring districts of Kottayam.
With the entry of Kerala Congress (Mani) Jose K Mani faction into the LDF fold, the ruling front is expecting to reap rich dividends in Kottayam.
Jose is also aware that this is a do-or-die battle for his party as it's the opportunity to prove its worth in the front and build a stable future.
The LDF is eyeing five to seven seats from the district that would compensate the likely losses to be incurred in the neighbouring four districts. The Left has high hopes for all the constituencies in the district except Kottayam and Puthuppally. LDF sources claimed that the front is certain to win Ettumanoor, Pala, Kanjirappaly and Changanassery.
CPM veteran V N Vasavan’s name is doing the rounds as LDF candidate for Kottayam. However, Vasavan is the CPM district secretary and the party has to give him special permission to contest as it is reluctant to field office-bearers and those who lost in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If he enters the fray, Vasavan is likely to face sitting MLA Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, who had defeated him in 2011 polls.
Sources said Vasavan is keen to contest from Ettumanoor. In that case, the party is likely to field advocate K Anil Kumar, convener of the Meenchil- Meenathara-Kodoor River Linking initiative.
CITU's Kottayam district secretary T R Raghunathan’s name has also cropped up during initial round of discussions.
The CPM has high hopes in Ettumanoor, where K Suresh Kuruppu had won twice in the past. Kuruppu, however, had contested several electoral battles from here and Kottayam Lok Sabha seat. The party may look for a fresh face this time as the CPM is reluctant to field people who had fought three consecutive electoral battles already.
Still, the party can make an exemption for him if he is a safe bet in Ettumanoor.
The second preference is Vasavan if he is not contesting from Kottayam. Former Kottayam district panchayat members B Mahesh Chandran and K Anil Kumar are also in the race for the seat.
The UDF is likely to pick Mahila Congress state president Latika Subhash or former DCC president Tomy Kallani in Ettumanoor.
Puthuppally is likely to witness a repeat of the 2016 contest with Congress veteran Oommen Chandy taking on CPM young blood Jaick C Thomas.
Emboldened by its recent win of the Puthuppally panchayat in the civic pools, LDF is expected to make a strong attempt to wrest the constituency this time. The LDF had won 6 village panchayats falling under the Puthuppally assembly constituency in the December 2020 local body polls.
The party leadership is keen on fielding Jaick, a familiar face in TV channel discussions and campaigns, to win over the Congress bastion.
K M Radhakrishnan is another likely contender for the LDF ticket here.
However, it would be a different ball game if the UDF allows Chandy’s son Chandy Oommen to have his poll debut from Puthuppally.
With UDF ally Kerala Congress (M) P J Joseph’s faction staking claim to the Changanassery constituency, the probability of a KC(M) vs KC(M) contest is high there. If the LDF lets Jose K Mani have his way, Job Michael is likely to be the LDF candidate for the seat, which was held by late C F Thomas.
If P J Joseph wins his bargain, C F’s brother Sajan Francis is likely to be the UDF candidate here. If the UDF decides otherwise, veteran leader K C Joseph may contest here.
CPI, the second major player in the LDF, is likely to give up Kanjirappally seat to new entrant KC(M). In the previous assembly polls, KC(M)’s N Jayaraj had defeated CPI’s V B Binu. This means Jose K Mani may field Jayaraj again – on LDF’s ticket this time.
The UDF may go for Latika Subhash or Tomy Kallani, depending on the decision over Ettumanoor candidate.
Vinu J George, All India Professionals Congress Kottayam chapter president and assistant professor at KE College, Mannanam, is also among the list of probable UDF contestants.
P C George's Kerala Janapaksham (Secular) is likely to field his son Shone George, who had won the Kottayam District Panchayat polls last year.
Depending on the decision on Kanjirappally, LDF will grant Poonjar to either CPI or KC(M). However, CPM may also stake claim here and bring its candidate. In that case, party secretariat member K J Thomas would be the frontrunner for the seat.
If it goes to CPI, AIYF leader Subesh Sudhakar is the most likely candidate for the LDF. If it is KC(M), advocate Sebastian Kulathunkal may enter the fray.
The front is also thinking on bringing in a fresh face to take on sitting MLA P C George.
Though Tomy Kallani is the potential UDF candidate for Poonjar, he may be given a safer seat. Kottayam DCC president Joshy Philip's name is also in the list.
Current MLA, CPI’s C K Asha is expected to contest for another term for LDF from Vaikom. She is likely to take on former Kottayam municipal chairperson P R Sona of Congress.
Being another Kerala Congress stronghold, it won't be a cakewalk for UDF’s Mons Joseph this time with Jose K Mani planning to field popular faces here.
KC(M) leader Stephen George, Kottayam District Panchayat president KC(M)’s Nirmala Jimmy, and vice-president CPM’s T S Sharath are also under LDF’s consideration.
Pala is expected to witness one of the most exciting contests in the state. Jose K Mani, who was with the UDF until last year, is set to be the LDF candidate in Pala. Incumbent MLA Mani C Kappan, who was in the LDF until recently, is set to take on Jose this time as a UDF candidate.
Winning Pala is crucial for both Mani and Kappan to strengthen their clout in respective fronts.
Jose's task is to wrest Pala seat, which the party lost in the 2019 by-election after his father K M Mani's death.
Elections to the 140-member Kerala Assembly will be held on April 6. The counting of votes is scheduled on May 2.