Kerala Polls: Sailboat without mooring, Azhikode sets pulses racing

KM Shaji, KV Sumesh, K Ranjith
KM Shaji, KV Sumesh, K Ranjith

Azhikode: The harbour town of Azhikode and surrounding areas have provided safe haven to anyone who could gauge the political winds of the constituency. A communist stronghold until 2011, Azhikode has elected Muslim League’s K M Shaji for two terms with slender leads.

Shaji himself hesitated before deciding to try a hat-trick. The Left Democratic Front can’t wait to retake the seat. They have fielded K V Sumesh, who has a proven knack to connect with voters. Clearly it is a contest of personas here.

Azhikode has a reputation for upsets. Wanting to prove his popularity after leaving the CPM in 1987, M V Raghavan reversed the political fortunes of the constituency when he wrested the seat from his estranged party. The LDF fought back in the next election in 1991 and kept the constituency for two uninterrupted decades.

The assembly segment underwent significant changes after a constituency delimitation in 2008. Shaji won the new-look seat by 493 votes in 2011, defeating sitting MLA M Prakashan. The CPM fielded Raghavan’s son M V Nikesh Kumar to challenge Shaji in 2016, but he lost for 2,287 votes.

Shaji and the UDF camp know that they are not in a comfort zone in Azhikode. The leads in the previous two elections are too thin for comfort. Though Congress leader K Sudhakaran managed to lead by 21,857 votes in the segment in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the LDF managed to take a lead of 6,141 votes in the areas in the local body elections.

Shaji’s victory in 2016 was successfully challenged in the Kerala High Court. Nikesh Kumar complained before the court that Shaji launched a communal campaign in the election. The high court nixed the election and disqualified Shaji for six years, but he sought an injunction order in the Supreme Court to continue as a legislator. He is also facing probes by the Kerala Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau – a challenge brushed aside by the UDF as political vendetta against a leader who is a vocal critic of the LDF government.

The LDF, however, has not focused its campaign on the accusations against the sitting legislator. They say that their campaign is centred around politics and development. The main charge is that Shaji’s terms caused a development setback for Azhikode. LDF’s Sumesh has an array of development achievements to list from his stint as the president of the district panchayat of Kannur.

The assembly segment comprises five panchayats and 15 divisions of the Kannur municipal corporation. The LDF is in power in four of those panchayats, while the UDF has a majority in the other one. The UDF has an upper hand in the corporation areas that fall in the assembly segment – their representatives were elected in 10 divisions, while the LDF won four and the BJP one.

The BJP is expecting to put up a good show in Azhikode, from where it got its first corporation councillor elected. BJP state secretary K Ranjith is leading the fight as a candidate for the National Democratic Alliance. Any change in the vote share of the BJP and the SDPI can affect the electoral outcome in this coastal constituency.

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