Poonjar’s electoral climate is strange for Kerala standards. Maverick politician PC George has successfully challenged both dominant political alliances and caused a four-cornered contest along with the Left Democratic Front, the United Democratic Front and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The pattern has not changed.
The Congress has fielded KPCC general secretary Tomy Kallani as the UDF candidate, while the LDF has thrown its weight behind district panchayat president Sebastian Kulathunkal. BJP ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena has picked M P Sen as the NDA candidate.
George, a former Kerala Congress leader, is seeking another term under the banner of his own ‘Janapaksham’. He was enjoying a film music concert at the SNDP Auditorium at Erumeli when we caught up with him. He inaugurated Charitra Charitable Trust’s Kanjirappalli taluk unit and lauded the singers. He took it easy, even sharing a meal with the office-bearers of the charity group.
“Elections will come and go. I am always cool,” he said, even as his co-workers remained edgy. They have a lot of ground to cover in the hilly constituency. “All politicians oppose me, yet I win. People are always with me. I will win by a margin of more than 35,000,” he said. His companions clapped.
He dismissed a group of workers who wanted him to inaugurate a bridge built with funds from the MLA’s fund. “Why do you want to waste money on an inauguration ceremony. If the bridge is ready, just open it. Let people use it.”
A girl had a bone to pick. Jasmin decided to meet up with the MLA in person after she failed to reach him on phone. George took her phone and dialled his number. “Just type PC and you will get my number. Call me whenever. I will take it.”
On his way to meet the workers’ representatives at the Cheruvalli estate, he made his driver stop the car in front of the Panjatheertha Parashakti Temple at Anjukuzhi. “Suresh Gopi visits this temple every year,” he said as he got down from the car.
As he stood sharing the temple lore, another car stopped by. Believers Eastern Church bishop Mathews Mar Sylvanios greeted George. “It’s god’s wish that we met here,” the MLA said.
Then he obliged a couple from Ranni who were visiting the temple. He posed for a picture with Sujith and Sreelakshmi before continuing on his way to the estate.
UDF fights back
It took Tomy Kallani an hour to cover 3 kilometres from Peringalam junction to Adivaram. The unforgiving terrain of the Poonjar assembly constituency has not tired out the former district president of the Congress.
Kallani, facing his maiden election, started his day early, around 5 am, after barely three hours of sleep. “I do not feel tired when I see the excitement of the people. They are hopeful,” he said. He is nudged on by panchayat member Roji Muthirenthikkal.
The UDF workers are working hard for Kallani to regain the seat which was once considered a bastion. In 2016, George distanced himself from both dominant fronts and contested independently and retained his seat in the legislative assembly.
Kallani was about to get into his Innova after a shop-to-shop campaign when he noticed a teacher waving at him. “I told you six months ago that only you can salvage this constituency,” Benny Thomas told Kallani.
“The people of Poonjar are committed to see that UDF wins here,” Kallani said. “This constituency has remained underdeveloped for 35 years. The condition of the Erattupetta-Wagamon road is miserable,” he said in an apparent barb at the sitting MLA.
“Nobody can go to Aruvikkachal, Marmala, Muthukoramala and other areas. People are fed up with this apathy. Farmers and workers are disappointed. There has been no development activity in Poonjar since the days of AJ John as MLA. Local development was stagnant except for main roads constructed with money from the MP’s fund. People want a change and they are with the UDF. This election will be a verdict against attempts to divide society for votes,” he summed up his speech to a round of applause.
Kallani went on meeting people gathered around the Peringalam junction. He sought the blessings of Ammini, an elderly shopkeeper.
“I grew up in Poonjar,” Kallani said. “I was active in the Kerala Students Union when I was studying in the Aruvithura St George College. Then I worked in the Youth Congress and the Congress. I was always in Poonjar. Many of them are my schoolmates and college mates,” he said, pointing to the party workers accompanying him. They nodded in agreement.
Kallani showed no sign of unease even though he was squeezed into the car by the workers accompanying him. People were waiting for him throughout his route. By the time he reached in front of the church at Adivaram around 6 pm, he was faced with a larger crowd. He met each of them to seek votes before visiting the Sacred Hearts Convent to seek support.
LDF candidate Sebastian Kulathunkal surprised Sarayu who was attending an online class on her house’s porch. Without disturbing the seventh-grader, the candidate sought the support of the other members of the family. Before leaving, he asked her if she was still in the class. “Teacher left,” she said. “Then she is one of us,” he joked.
He then visited the erstwhile royal family of Poonjar to seek their votes. Then he proceeded to the Pulikkappalam colony in the 7th ward of the Poonjar panchayat. The entourage is on fire, covering as much ground as possible despite the summer heat.
“This is the largest constituency in Kottayam district. Poonjar is as big as the entire Alappuzha district. End to end, it’s 116 kilometres,” he explained the need for speed. He moved along with his colleagues Ramesh Vettimattom, Mohanan Nair, Joshi Moozhiyankal and Tony Purappuzha.
Even before the team entered the house of a senior comrade, he was assured of support. “I know you even before you knew me. My vote is like a fixed deposit,” the man of the house said smilingly. Similar responses energise the campaign team throughout. “Who will we vote for if not for the LDF?”
Sebastian is assured of support by everyone he meets on the way. He has a word of caution for the women who burn up dried leaves.
Sebastian believes that the people are in no mood to entertain George for another term. He expects the anti-incumbency sentiment to work in his favour. “People have started protesting the lack of development in the constituency. The MLA has not implemented any of the 30 points he listed in his election manifesto last time. All that will be reflected in the election,” he said.
Total voters - 1,83,590
Votes polled – 1,45,753
Polling percentage – 79.39 percent
Majority – 27,821 votes
PC George (independent) – 63,621 votes
George Kutty Augusthi (Kerala Congress-Mani) – 35,800 votes
PC Joseph (Janadhipathya Kerala Congress) – 22,270 votes
MR Ullas (Bharat Dharma Jana Sena) – 19,966 votes