Ernakulam: The United Democratic Front has always betted on the Ernakulam district where people are generally averse to change as long as they are allowed to pursue their daily business. To be fair, the Left Democratic Front has its own bases in the district.
Even though the UDF swept the Lok Sabha election in 2019, the LDF managed to guard its share in the local body elections of 2020. Both fronts, however, have new challengers to consider.
The BJP increased its votes by about 20,000 in four assembly constituencies in 2016. Upsetting the matrix further is a new entrant named Twenty20, promoted by a business house.
Except in 2006, the district has been benevolent to the UDF in assembly elections. The Congress-led front also won big in Lok Sabha elections in the district that stretches from the farms in the east to the fishing hamlets in the west. The urban pockets in the middle makes the district the most commercial area in the state.
The UDF won nine seats in the assembly from the district in 2016 and the LDF five. The UDF won all four Lok Sabha seats that has anything to do with the district. It was one of the two districts which gave the UDF a face saver in the recent local body elections.
Swearing by diversity
The central district is far from uniform. Kochi and Vypeen assembly segments are completely coastal, while Kothamangalam, Moovattupuzha, Piravom, Angamaly, Perumbavoor and Kunnathunadu voters are swayed only by agricultural issues. Paravur, Ernakulam, Aluva, Kalamassery, Tripoonithura and Trikkakkara are definitely urban constituencies.
Political parties have to select their strategies in accordance with the local interests in each constituency. Making any prediction difficult are the underlying currents influenced by the Church and other community leaders.
The UDF faces the assembly election with the same pattern as 2016, while the LDF has reoriented to accommodate the Kerala Congress (M). The CPM has given up Piravom and Perumbavur in favour of the new ally. The BJP contests in 11 seats while ally BDJS is present in three. The BDJS garnered more than 20,000 votes in Kalamassery and Paravur last time. The BJP won about 30,000 votes in Tripunithura and 21,247 votes in Trikkakkara.
Predictably, the election campaign started with frustrations. Leaders who were denied another chance to contest were peeved. K V Thomas started the melodrama but the Congress high command was able to persuade him to take up the post of the KPCC working president instead. P C Chacko, however, switched over to the NCP.
As many as 12 sitting MLAs are seeking another term from the district. The Muslim League denied a seat to former minister V K Ebrahim Kunju, who faces allegations of corruption related to a botched flyover in Ernakulam city, but picked his son as his successor in Kalamassery.
Former minister K Babu put up a brave struggle for a chance to be the Congress candidate in Tripunithura.
The CPM has rested S Sarma, who was elected as an MLA for six consecutive terms. The party had to yield to ally Kerala Congress (M) in Piravom but ended up contributing a local leader as candidate. The CPI had a tough time picking its candidate in Paravur.
As the final picture emerges, both LDF and UDF teams are younger on average. The candidates’ list is a mix of veterans and freshers. The most prestigious fight is perhaps in Tripunithura, where CPM state committee member M Swaraj is in a fight to guard the seat from former MLA K Babu and BJP state vice president K S Radhakrishnan. Swaraj wrested the seat from 25-year MLA Babu last time, as the BJP scored 29,843 votes.
Babu is aiming to get even this time, but Swaraj is prepared for the challenge. He has a list of achievements to show in his progress report for the past five years. The BJP is not aiming a repeat of 2016 but is bent on winning the seat, as evident from the visit of Amit Shah. Allegations of vote-selling are already heard in the constituency.
Angamaly is a tough call. Former minister Jose Thettayil is trying to upset the chances of sitting MLA Roji M John. Former minister Anoop Jacob faces a young challenger in Piravom. Kerala Congress (M) candidate Sindhumol Jacob was late to start the campaign but she has caught up.
The CPM has fielded independent candidates in Ernakulam, Trikkakkara and Aluva seats. The candidature of KRLCC former vice president Shaji George in Ernakulam is a shot at the votes the Latin Catholic Church can command. Orthopaedist Dr J Jacob is the LDF-backed candidate in Trikkakkara. In Aluva, the LDF has devised a bolder plan by throwing its weight behind Shelna Nishad, the daughter-in-law of six-term Congress MLA K Muhammed Ali.
The UDF has opted for rookies in four of the five seats it lost last time. In Kalamassery, it replaced sitting MLA Ebrahim Kunju but opted for his son V E Abdul Gafoor. He has a formidable challenger in CPM state secretariat member P Rajeev.
The LDF has nine fresh faces on its candidates’ list.
The CPM was forced to justify its soft corner for the Kerala Congress (M). The leaders skirted the questions about granting two seats for the new ally in the district by saying that it takes time for an alliance to sprout. Though the tie-up benefited the LDF in the local body elections in the rest of Kerala, Ernakulam remained an exception.
LDF leaders estimate that the alliance has helped it in the eastern parts of the district. They see it as an entrance to certain areas even if the access doesn’t translate into vote share immediately.
Another spoilsport is Twenty20 which made its debut in the local body elections of 2015. The outfit is contesting in eight assembly segments. They won 17 of the 19 wards in Kizhakkambalam panchayat in 2015. Five years later, they control three more panchayats in the area and serve as the opposition in another. Wherever they are in power, the majority is absolute. The party controls half of the eight panchayats in the Kunnathunad assembly segment.
They have put up candidates in Kothamangalam, Moovattupuzha, Ernakulam, Trikkakkara, Vypeen, Kochi and Perumbavur constituencies too. They said they expected victory in Kunnathunad and were hopeful of tilting the verdicts in the other seats.
The party’s candidate in Kothamangalam is the son-in-law of Kerala Congress chairman P J Joseph. Oommen Chandy’s son-in-law, businessman Kochouseph Chittilappilly and film directors Sreenivasan, Lal and Siddique are the others aligned to the new outfit.