Development takes a back seat as controversies take centre stage in Thrikkakara bypolls

The candidates of Thrikkakara bypoll: UDF's Uma Thomas (left) and LDF's Jo Joseph (right).

Kochi: Contrary to expectations, issues on development are yet to become the major talking point in Thrikkakara, where both the UDF and LDF are locked in a tight electoral battle.  

The campaign for the bypoll has so far witnessed a fair share of controversies -- from the candidature to clandestine links with the BJP -- and the UDF and LDF are forming strategies and counter-strategies based on the controversies to bog down the rivals.

It is unlikely that development will take centre stage in the coming days. As the LDF sprang a surprise candidate, Dr Jo Joseph, UDF fired the first salvo criticising the LDF for choosing the hospital where its candidate has been working to launch him into the political arena. The UDF also criticised the LDF saying it had insulted the Church. The criticism was short-lived, since neither Front wanted to rub the Church the wrong way.

LDF deployed K V Thomas, who was under suspension from Congress for attending CPM's national conclave at Kannur, in the campaign trail, after paving the way for his ouster from the Congress by making him attend the LDF's election convention. Thomas, however, is not active in the campaign following the demise of his brother.

The CPM succeeded in bringing over to its camp rebel Congress leader and former DCC general secretary M B Muraleedharan, who had resigned in protest against Uma Thomas's candidature. Besides Muraleedharan, the LDF has deployed several former Congress leaders in Thrikkakara, hoping to win UDF votes.

M B Muraleedharan
Former DCC President M B Muraleedharan. File photo

CPM's attempt to propagate that there is a clandestine Congress-BJP pact at the hustings turned out to be a damp squib. Uma visiting BJP's election committee office and seeking votes for herself had prompted the CPM to unleash such a campaign. The CPM had no answer when videos showing Uma seeking votes in CITU offices, too, started circulating in the constituency.

Opposition leader V D Satheesan further took the sting out of the LDF attack, taunting the rival front with the question, "who would strike clandestine deals for votes with several people in tow, and that too in broad daylight!"

Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. File Photo.

Even as the UDF and LDF fired and retaliated with verbal barbs, the ruling Front was hit by an unexpected crisis. The survivor in the actor rape case approached the High Court of Kerala, accusing the government of making political interferences in the case. Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan were forced to reply to the allegations, her references still continue to singe the LDF.

Though LDF reiterated that it is with the survivor, a few leaders, including E P Jayarajan and M M Mani, forced the Front into defensive after they raised suspicion that the UDF was behind the survivor's petition. The government is now trying to wriggle out of the situation by requesting the court for more time for the crime branch to complete the probe.

Meanwhile, the UDF celebrated "victory" after the government decided to halt the planting of marker stones as part of the SilverLine project. Thrikkakara, according to the project plan, has the lone SilverLine railway station in Ernakulam district. The issue, however, has not yet been widely discussed during the campaign.

The High Court questioning the hullabaloo created over the planting of stones, too, became a weapon in the UDF's arsenal. The court raised the question after the government, in a major climbdown, decided to go for geo-tagging or markings on permanent structures, instead of laying boundary stones as part of the social impact assessment for the project.

The Democratic Social Justice Party (DSJP) declaring support to LDF, too, went against that Front. An independent candidate had moved the High Court against Uma's candidature. He withdrew from the contest after his petition was rejected. DSJP had earlier claimed that he was its candidate. With the DSJP announcing support to LDF made many suspect that the Front was behind the move questioning Uma's candidature.

Controversies over Pinarayi Vijayan terming the bypoll as a lucky opportunity for the people of Thrikkakara to correct their mistake (of electing the late PT Thomas of the Congress), and KPCC president K Sudhakaran's "dog on the loose" remark against the chief minister, did not gain much currency.

The campaign is based on controversies as and when they crop up. Going by the trend, P C George's arrest in Kochi and related issues could be talking point over the next few days.

Sudhakaran: Fuelling the campaign
KPCC president K Sudhakaran has been attending select campaign programmes. Though he had been active in the campaign, a health issue has prevented him from leading from the front.

Sudhakaran, however, is active backstage, reviewing poll strategies, and discussing issues with other leaders. He is also closely monitoring each area in the constituency and in consultation with opposition leader V D Satheesan and others, plan further strategies.

Kodiyeri: The troubleshooter
Though in Kochi, CPM State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has been keeping away from meetings and corner meetings. Despite a medical condition, he is playing a major role in the LDF's prestigious battle to score a century.

He is actively reviewing the election committee meetings, besides issuing directives and strategies to local committees. He comes to the forefront whenever his physical presence is required, as in the case of the survivor in the actor rape case moving the high court, which put the government in the defensive.

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