Vaikom is an island of calm amid turbulent assembly constituencies where political ambitions and frustrations have resulted in a flurry of breakdowns and angry outbursts. Vaikom is preparing for a straightforward political contest, unlike neighbouring Ettumanur or Piravom which are strained by shifting alliances and reversing fortunes.
C K Asha, the current representative of Vaikom, left her house for the daily campaign at 8am. Her Verna car has covered 1.5 lakh kilometres since won as an LDF candidate five years ago. Voters vouch that their representative is always present when needed. That is the base of Asha’s confidence of getting another term in the legislative assembly as Vaikom’s representative. Her posters are rampant across the constituency.
The campaign is shorter this time – barely a fortnight compared to 45 summer days in 2016. She took a break from the campaign to buy two cotton saris from a textile shop at Padinjare Nada. Sales staff thronged the popular politician. A signboard says the shop does not give any guarantee to silk saris and other fancy items, but the MLA’s presence is guaranteed in Vaikom.
“I get up at 4am. That habit helped me a lot when I became an MLA,” Asha said. “I run the kitchen even now. I prepare three meals in the morning. Only those who can run a home can run society. I wanted to study law, but I could not afford it back then. So I joined the Kerala Press Academy to study public relations. That has become an advantage now.”
The CPI leader’s rivals are also women in this temple town, which stands proud of its women leaders while the rest of Kerala debates over the political wilderness women finds themselves in. The Congress has fielded Dr P R Sona while BJP ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena candidate is Ajitha Sabu.
Vaikom’s geography is marked by the famed temple. The CPI office is situated on the northern entrance to the temple. Further away is the erstwhile Indamthuruthi Mana which now houses a trade union office of toddy tappers. On the western entrance stands the local office of the Congress. Election campaign is a muted affair in Vaikom, which even desisted from the annual Ashtami festival celebrations due to the COVID-19-induced social distancing norms.
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy visited the town for the Congress convention. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is also awaited. High-profile visitors might jack up the mood, party workers hope.
Asha and Sona are more than political rivals. They collaborate on a personal level. They are friends. Asha said she was in constant touch with Sona, who was a municipal chairperson of the Kottayam town, to seek assistance in the time of COVID-19. Sona has many memories to share too.
Sona is a Kottayam resident. She was born in Ezhikkara in North Paravur and studied in the Maharaja’s College in Ernakulam. She earned her doctorate by researching the landscapes in classic Malayalam novels – Mayyazhi in M Mukundan’s ‘Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil’, Kokkanjira in Sara Joseph’s ‘Alahayude Penmakkal’ and Lanthan Batheri in N S Madhavan’s ‘Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal’.
The academic-turned-politician has a knack for connecting geographies to political life. She earned her doctorate after she contested election to the Kottayam municipality. She became a doctor of philosophy the day she was elected as the municipal chairperson.
Vaikom is one of the few constituencies which stayed clear of tug-of-war in the Congress related to candidates’ selection. Sona was a unanimous choice for Vaikom. She considers her experience helming a bigger municipality. She also holds the LDF-controlled state government responsible for turning a blind eye towards Kottayam. She said a minister had told her in her face that her ambitious development plan would fall flat because there were hardly any LDF MLAs from the area.
Like Sona and Asha, the NDA candidate also comes with administrative experience. Ajitha Sabu, a resident of Perur near Ettumanur, has served in the district panchayat for two terms. She was a district panchayat president between 2003 and 2005. Her father C A Thankachan was a BJP candidate in Vaikom in the 1996 election.
Asha’s challengers have a lot of work to do. She won the previous election with a majority of 24,584 votes. The last time the Congress won the constituency was in 1991 when K K Balakrishnan was elected MLA. The LDF has a comfortable lead even if you consider the 22,000-vote majority secured in the recent election to the local bodies within the assembly seat.
NDA’s Neelakandan won 30,067 votes in the previous election. The LDF remained strong in its traditional bastion despite calculations of an onslaught into its support base by the alliance of BJP and the BDJS. It was the UDF which took a hit while the NDA increased its votes five folds.
Sona and her workers are leaving no stone unturned. They are trying to highlight the administrative lapses that hampered development in Vaikom. District Congress committee member B Anil Kumar said you only have to compare the pothole-ridden roads in Vaikom with those of Kaduthuruthi. Sona concurred.
The Vaikom-Vechur road and the unfinished Makkekkadavu bridge give ammo to the Congress campaign.
At a glance
Voters – 1,62,632
Votes polled – 1,32,048
Polling percentage – 81.19 per cent
Majority – 24,584 votes
C K Asha (CPI) – 61,997 votes
A Sanish Kumar (Congress) – 37,413 votes
N K Neelakandan (BDJS) – 30,067 votes
K C Chandrasekharan (BSP) – 540 votes
Subeesh Surendran (PDP) – 489 votes
Anila Bose (SUCI) – 420 votes
K C Prakash (CPI-ML) – 204 votes
Kuttan Kattachira (independent) – 118 votes
NOTA – 800 votes