Malappuram: No district in Kerala gets as many star campaigners as football-crazy Malappuram. Party leaders even rope in “Lionel Messi” and “Neymar Junior” to campaign for their candidates. Every campaign squad has at least one worker sporting the jersey of their favourite football player’s name and number.
The district is home to the forwards of all political formations – P K Kunhalikkutty of the United Democratic Front, A Vijayaraghavan of the Left Democratic Front and E Sreedharan, the new face of the BJP in Kerala. the latter though contesting from the Palakkad constituency in the neighbouring district.
With the largest voter share among Kerala’s district, Malappuram has 16 assembly constituencies. The UDF won 12 of them in the 2016 assembly election, while the LDF had won the rest.
Malappuram is also facing a byelection to the Lok Sabha along with the assembly election. Muslim League M P Abdussamad Samadani expects to defend the seat vacated by Kunhalikkutty. The LDF has fielded SFI national president V P Sanu to take on the Muslim League again, while the NDA hopes to put up a better fight with A P Abdulla Kutty as the candidate.
The Muslim League is far from smug in its home turf. Any upset would ruin its stature as a key player in the UDF. The party has gone with sitting MLAs wherever it expects to win and roped in young leaders to gain ground in more challenging seats. The Muslim League contests in 12 seats while Congress is fighting it out in four, including a sitting seat.
The UDF strongholds include Vengara, where Kunhalikutty is contesting from, Vandoor, where Congress former minister A P Anil Kumar is seeking another term, as well as Manjeri, Malappuram, Kondotti, Kottakkal, Eranad, Vallikkunnu and Mankada.
The LDF game plan is no different from its earlier strategy. The front hopes to make inroads in the district through independent candidates. The CPM has chosen to support nine independent candidates all over Kerala. Five of them are in the Malappuram district. Even the CPI, which has three seats to contest, has fielded two independents. The NCP and the INL are also contesting one seat each.
The NDA team includes 14 BJP candidates and two BDJS candidates.
Before the whistle
Both the UDF and the LDF faltered in the early phase of candidate selection in Malappuram. The CPM faced dissidence in Ponnani and the Muslim League witnessed protests in Thiroorangadi. Both parties persisted with their original choices though.
CPM has deputed P Nandakumar to guard its sitting seat of Ponnani. He was selected by the party’s state committee. He is pitted against Youth Congress state secretary A M Rohith. BDJS district vice president Subramanian Chungappally is the NDA candidate.
Though the Muslim League candidate in Thiroorangadi faced local protests, it was his party that ended up changing the original candidate. Muslim League state general secretary K P A Majeed continued as the party’s candidate, but the CPI substituted district assistant secretary Ajith Kolady for SIDCO chairman Niyas Pulikkalakam, who had managed to reduced the UDF lead as an LDF-backed independent in 2016. The NDA candidate is Kalliyath Sathar Haji, the district president of the Minority Morcha.