At 4 pm on Thursday, a tea shop near Vadakara old bus stand came alive with an interesting election discussion.
“Manayath Chandran and KK Rema filed nominations today. This is the beginning of a tough fight,” Babu told his friends while sipping tea.
Krishnan broke his silence a few seconds later. “CPM will use all its strength to ensure Rema’s defeat. They want it more than Chandran’s victory.”
Nandakumar, who just arrived for his evening tea, countered. “Only LDF candidates will win from Vadakara. Chandran is a strong candidate,” he said.
The discussion then veered towards internal issues of various political parties, chances of the candidates and who will best serve Vadakara’s interest in the assembly, evoking mixed responses. But all of them felt the poll duel in Vadakara will be much more intense than ever before.
KK Rema is the leader of the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI). The party was founded in Onchiyam in the Kozhikode district by her husband TP Chandrasekharan, popularly known as TP, after parting ways with the CPM over ideological differences.
In 2012, TP was hacked to death. The murder created a huge political storm. Rema’s accusations that top CPM leaders, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, were part of the conspiracy to kill TP had put CPM in the dock. Twelve people, including three CPM leaders, were convicted for the murder.
Rema is contesting the election with the support of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a coalition of political parties headed by Congress. “UDF offered unconditional support, hence we accepted it. We are not part of the Congress-led coalition,” Rema said.
She is taking on Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate Manayath Chandran, whose party, Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), is a little known political entity in the State.
Chandran was the UDF candidate in the last Assembly election in 2016. Contesting as the Janata Dal (United) candidate, he lost to LDF’s CK Nanu of Janata Dal (Secular) by 9,511 votes. JD (U) joined LDF in 2018. A year later, the Kerala unit of the party became LJD.
Both the incumbent MLA (Nanu) and the 2016 runner-up (Chandran) are in the LDF camp now, but the Left coalition preferred Chandran as its candidate despite Nanu’s party raising a strong claim for the seat. This has not gone down well with the JD (S) rank and file, which may affect Chandran’s chances.
But Chandran said all issues with JD(S) have been sorted out. “CK Nanu was with me when I filed the nomination. We will work united for the LDF victory,” Chandran said.
Vadakara elected candidates with socialist credentials, albeit from different parties, in assembly elections, except in 1957 when it favoured CPI leader MK Kelu.
M Krishnan represented Vadakara thrice from three different socialist parties. On his debut in 1960, he was with the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP). In 1967, he won it for Praja Socialist Party (PSP) and in 1970, he won the seat for SP (Socialist Party).
K Chandrashekhar continued the legacy, winning the seat five times from three socialist parties. He was with Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD) in 1977. For the next three terms (1980, 1982 and 1987), he was with the Janata Party (JP). In 1991, he won it for Janata Dal (JD).
CK Nanu represented the constituency twice in 1996 and 2001 when he was with Janata Dal. In 2006, JD(Secular) leader M K Premnath emerged winner, followed by CK Nanu in 2011 and 2016.
Vadakara municipality and Azhiyur, Chorode, Eramala and Onchiyam gram panchayats are part of the constituency.
In the 2020 local body polls, the RMPI-UDF alliance won Eramala, Onchiyam and Azhiur gram panchayats while LDF took Vadakara municipality and Chorode gram panchayat. LDF won 60 wards as against UDF-RMPI’s 49. The Left coalition tallied over 3,000 votes than its rivals.
The scenario was different a year earlier. Congress leader K Muraleedharan secured a lead of 22,693 votes from the Vadakara assembly segment when he defeated CPM’s P Jayarajan by 84,663 votes from the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency.
KK Rama, who fought the 2016 assembly election as an RMPI candidate (without UDF support) garnered 20,504 votes.
This calculation was the reason for autorickshaw driver Muneer’s prediction of a KK Rema victory.
“In 2016, she got more than 20,000 votes. Add this to 39,000 votes garnered by the then UDF candidate Chandran. So I believe that Rema will win by over 10,000 votes,” he said.
Rema says Vadakara’s development, the Pinarayi Vijayan government's misrule and the TP Chandrasekharan murder are the major campaign issues.
“I will address people’s concerns about agriculture, education and tourism in Vadakara. I will also address the issues faced by people on the coast,” she said.
“I will highlight the corruption and nepotism of Pinarayi's government. Corruption is rampant in Kerala. Backdoor employment has become the norm of the day and common people are sidelined. Are they representing the proletariat?” she asked.
“I will raise the murder of TP Chandrasekharan in my campaign,” she said.
For Chandran, development is the major election issue.
“The LDF government has changed the face of Kerala with innovative development projects. I am urging people to elect LDF to continue the projects,” he said.
Chandran said voters will not forget the pro-people initiative launched by the Pinarayi government during the floods and COVID-19. “So I am urging them to elect the government again,” he said.
He said TP Chandrasekharan’s murder is not an election issue in Vadakara. “Rama had raised the issue in the last assembly election too, but people paid little attention to it,” he said.
When this correspondent randomly asked 15 people in Chorode, Onchiyam, Orkkattery and Vadakara about the election issues, all of them listed TP Chandrasekharan’s murder.
The responses apparently validate Rema’s claim that the murder is still afresh in people's minds. “Nine years have passed since TP Chandrasekharan’s murder. Not a single day has passed in Kerala without discussing the gruesome murder. This means that the wounds have not healed so far. The murder case should be investigated again,” she said.
Even as claims and counter-claims continue, both candidates sounded confident of a big victory.
“Vadakara yearns for a change. I will win comfortably,” Rema said.
Chandran said he will win by over 10,000 votes. “This constituency will remain with the socialists.”