Kerala Assembly polls: High-stakes race for all in Kollam

Kerala Assembly polls: High-stakes race for all in Kollam

Kollam's socio-economic-political landscape has undergone several changes over the years. The cashew industry, which once earned Kollam the sobriquet of the cashew capital of the world, is now staring at a bleak future.

The district's about one lakh new voters will be casting their first vote on April 6. They have the distinction of not seeing a single Congress MLA from their district ever since their birth. The Congress and the UDF have the huge task of putting this humiliation behind.

The run-up to the election began in all fronts with internal squabbles over seat sharing. The CPM, however, managed to muffle the voices of dissent, but CPI couldn’t. Dissent is smouldering in the Congress, while it has begun in BJP.

Lose one, face the music

The LDF had a clean sweep of the district, winning all the 11 Assembly seats in 2016. They are in the electoral battlefield to retain all these valuable seats in south Kerala. The Front will have to explain if it loses even one seat in Kollam.

In 2016, CPM and CPI successfully contested in four constituencies each, while Kerala Congress (B), RSP (L) and CMP (Aravindakshan faction) equally shared the remaining three seats. CMP later merged with CPM, and that seat went to the latter's kitty.

It was rumoured earlier that CPM would drop Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma, who got tangled in the deep-sea fishing contract controversy, from the list of candidates. But the party decided against avoiding her over the controversy, and she is now contesting for the sixth time from Kundara.

Kerala Assembly polls: High-stakes race for all in Kollam

The party replaced its Kottarakkara MLA P Aisha Potty with K N Balagopal, the party's lone state secretariat member for Kollam. Murmurs of dissent, as in 2016, were heard over the fielding of M Mukesh in Kollam Assembly constituency. CPM's lower units soon fell in line and accepted the party's decision to try the actor-politician for one more time.

Sitting MLA M Noushad is contesting again from Eravipuram. CPM fielded Dr V Sujith, son of late MLA N Vijayan Pillai, as an independent candidate in Chavara.

The CPI, meanwhile, witnessed heated arguments over the decrease in its seats in the district. The party used to contest in as many as seven seats in a district where the party enjoys significant clout. The Ismail-Kanam factions vied for seats, and the former group won the lion’s share while the latter had to be content with just one.

The run-up to naming candidates was not smooth for CPI. The row over seat sharing also led to a parallel convention in Kollam, the district where the party has the most number of members in the country.

The CPI had also implemented the two-term norm that barred minister K Raju and district secretary Mullakkara Ratnakaran from contesting. Their exclusion led to disputes within the party and the protesting party workers hit the streets in Chadayamangalam. However, the dissidents were forced to accept the official leadership's decision to field national council member J Chinchu Rani in Chadayamangalam.

The son of former MLA P K Sreenivasan's son P S Supal, also a former legislator, is seeking the mandate on Punalur, represented by Minister Raju. G S Jayalal is contesting from Chathannoor again, while sitting MLA R Ramachandran has been fielded in Karunagappally. The internal squabble over seat-sharing will blow up if CPI loses even one out of the four seats it is contesting.

Out in the cold for two decades

The Congress last won a seat in Kollam two decades ago in 2001. The UDF had then won all the 12 seats, and the Congress' share was four. The party which normally used to witness factionalism and back-stabbing, decided to change its ways and create history. It discarded its old ways of sharing seats based on group affiliations. The party is contesting in seven seats this time.

Though she had shed tears, DCC president Bindu Krishna is also in the fray. She has been politically active in Kollam over the past years with the intention of contesting the polls. She knows well that even a minor flaw would land her in troubled waters.

AICC secretary P C Vishnunath has been pitted against Mercykutty Amma in Kundara with the intention of keeping alive the deep-sea fishing contract controversy. KPCC general secretary C R Mahesh, who lost Karunagapally in 2016 by a narrow margin, is determined to post a win. Putting aside differences, the party machinery is working as a single unit in the segment to ensure Mahesh's win.

KPCC general secretaries Jyothikumar Chamakkala in Pathanapuram and M M Naseer, and district panchayat member R Rashmi in Kottarakkara are the new faces, representing the party’s move for a generation change. Veteran N Peethambara Kurup is fighting to win Chathannoor.

RSP factions have originated, underwent splits and grew in Kollam. Both the factions are in the fray in four segments: RSP with the UDF in three and RSP (L), part of the LDF, in one seat.

Former minister Shibu Baby John has launched a fool-proof campaign in Chavara, which he lost in 2016. RSP will not settle for anything less than a win in Chavara, a constituency close to the party’s heart. N P Premachandran, MP, is accompanying Baby John in the campaign to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

RSP's young leader Ullas Kovoor is in Kunnathur, where he was defeated in 2016. Community equations were considered before fielding former minister Babu Diwakaran in Eravipuram. RSP hopes that Diwakaran could win CPM votes also in the segment.

RSP was defeated in all the five seats it had contested in the previous polls. A repeat of 2016 would be detrimental to the party’s future prospects.

Indian Union Muslim League has fielded its 'fighter', State secretary Abdurahman Randathani in Punalur to challenge CPI in Punalur.

K B Ganeshkumar of Kerala Congress (B) is contesting for LDF from Pathanapuram again, while Kovoor Kunjumon of RSP (L) will seek the mandate from Kunnathur.

Going gets tough for BJP

BJP is expecting to put up a tight fight in Chathannoor where it has come second in 2016. District president B B Gopakumar is seeking the mandate from Chanthanoor again. But the party suffered hiccups following the disputes over seat sharing. Additionally, a senior leader went on record saying R Balashankar’s allegation of a CPM-BJP deal is 100 percent correct in the district.

Further, BDJS is unhappy over the taking away of one seat from its kitty. The party is contesting in two seats this time.

The ripples of discontent over the denial of seats to two senior RSS leaders—ignoring the organization's demand—are obvious in the BJP. State secretary Raji Prasad (Kunnathur), Mandalam president Vayaykkal Soman (Kottarakkara), district secretary Jithin Dev (Pathanapuram), Karshaka Morcha district president Ayoor Murali (Punalur), Yuva Morcha district president Vishnu Pattathanam (Chadayamangalam), Mahila Morcha district president Bitty Sudheer (Karunagapally), State committee member M Sunil (Kollam), and TV serial actor Vivek Gopan (Chavara) are the other candidates.

Who will benefit?

The LDF is confident that the government's welfare-development activities will translate into votes in Kollam. Though the Front’s organizational strength and its performance in the local body polls are making it confident of winning the district, it is also worried of the uncertainty Kollam presents. Experience has taught them that the district could sway in favour of any Front.

Five constituencies have the sea as one the borders. Fishermen organizations have been saying that the government had sold the sea to an American firm, referring to the controversy over the deep-sea fishing contract. The government's defence, so far, has been weak.

Rahul Gandhi taking a dip in the sea has energized the UDF. The crisis caused by the closure of 40 government-run and more than 400 private cashew factories in the district will be a point of discussion during the campaign. The adverse impact of Covid-19 on traditional industries has hurt the district, and it would reflect in the election.

Fresh faces

Kollam has sided with fresh faces and even guest stars in the elections. To capitalize on this trend, the Congress has fielded fresh faces in three of the seven constituencies it is contesting. LDF has two new faces in the fray, while BJP has six new entrants.

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