Wayanad’s political loyalty is as fickle as the prices of the agricultural commodities the hilly district is known for. Voters in the district no longer let any political party take them for granted. True, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi won the Lok Sabha seat by a record 4,31,770 votes, but can his colleagues expect the same benevolence when it comes to the assembly election?
Wayanad has stood by the Congress-led United Democratic Front but the changing political patterns in the district raises expectations for the Left Democratic Front. If the Congress took lead in a majority of polling booths when Rahul Gandhi contested as a candidate to the Lok Sabha in 2019, the LDF won half the seats in the district panchayat and scored as many block panchayats as the UDF a year later.
Even the National Democratic Alliance is excited about Wayanad, home to the Sulthan Bathery assembly constituency, one of the few seats in north Kerala where the BJP-led formation is in a comfortable position.
If Congress won all three assembly segments in the district in 2001, it lost all three to the LDF in 2006. In 2011, Congress swept all three seats once again but lost two in 2016. While the UDF tries to win all three seats this time, the LDF is trying to wrest Sulthan Bathery from Congress.
Both Sulthan Bathery and Mananthavady are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Kalpetta, the only general seat in the district, caused a major revolt in the Congress. Several leaders left the party in protest against the candidate selection. Even KPCC vice president and former MLA K C Rosakutty left the party after she was denied a seat.
Even the LDF is plagued by internal protests in Kalpetta, where the CPM replaced its sitting MLA C K Saseendran with M V Shreyams Kumar of the LJD.
In Sulthan Bathery, the LDF has thrown its weight behind M S Viswanathan, who quit as KPCC secretary after he was sidelined in the candidate selection. The disgruntled leaders may have a bearing on the electoral prospects in the constituency. The BJP district committee is peeved at the leadership’s decision to let tribal leader C K Janu contest from Sulthan Bathery.
The NDA’s candidate in Mananthavady said he was not consulted.
Though Kalpetta has a history of aligning with the UDF, things are a little strange this time. LDF candidate Shreyams Kumar’s election campaign is coordinated by C K Saseendran, who contested against him last time. Shreyams Kumar’s party has since returned to the LDF fold.
UDF candidate T Siddique said that the LDF has done nothing for the constituency in the buffer zone and medical college issues. A medical college that was allotted to Kalpetta ended up in Mananthawadi, thanks to the interests of the CPM in Kannur, he alleged.
The LDF counters the allegation by pointing out the contributions of the candidate’s family which had parted with its land for the construction of the medical college.
The UDF expects to retain the upper hand it received in the Lok Sabha election and the local body elections. The LDF expects the voting pattern to change when it comes to the assembly election. After all, it had won the seat five years ago.
BJP leader T M Subeesh is the NDA candidate.
If former opponents work together in Kalpetta, friends have turned in Sulthan Bathery. As District Congress president I C Balakrishnan seeks a third term to the assembly, former party colleague M S Viswanathan has switched sides to face him as the LDF candidate. Both candidates work hard to turn the community equations in their favour.
Viswanathan alleged that Congress had ignored the Kuruma community while selecting its candidate. Balakrishnan said that he had served a representative of all communities and ushered in development in the constituency.
Allegations and counter-allegations are galore when it comes to infrastructure development. The LDF expects the desertion of Congress leaders to work in their favour. The UDF said only the leaders have left and the workers are with the party. The LDF could never make inroads into the UFD bastions of Sulthan Bathery even in local body elections, they pointed out.
C K Janu is contesting the assembly election yet again for the NDA. She had won 27,920 votes in 2016. This time, she is contesting under the ‘lotus’ symbol of the BJP. She said she would try to draw the centre’s attention to the problems faced by tribal people and farmers.
LDF sitting MLA O R Kelu faces former minister P K Jayalakshmi in Mananthavady. The LDF expects to repeat its surprise victory in the UDF stronghold. Both fronts are hopeful of winning the seat. The NDA received an initial setback when its candidate backtracked but it has fielded Scheduled Tribes Morcha state president Palliyara Mukundan as its candidate.
Mananthavady is the only segment where the LDF had an upper hand in the recent elections to the local self-government bodies. Kelu said that the constituency has witnessed unprecedented development in the last five years. He also has an early-bird advantage of hitting the campaign trail early.
Jayalakshmi is also hopeful of winning back the constituency, which she lost by 1307 votes in 2016. The UDF has put its acts together in the constituency, she thinks. Her work as a minister in the Oommen Chandy government is also expected to help her connect with voters.