Know Your Candidate: Teacher vs charmer fight wows Vadakara

Illustration: Onmanorama

Onmanorama's Know Your Candidate (KYC) captures the changing trends in a constituency, the pulse of the voters from the ground and gauges candidates' chances.

K K Shailaja
Despite Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan publicly snubbing her during the Nava Kerala Sadas, the CPM-led LDF is betting big on four-time MLA KK Shailaja (67) to wrest back Vadakara, which has been sending a Congress member to the Lok Sabha since 2009.

In 2021, she was elected to the Legislative Assembly from Mattannur with 60,963 votes, the biggest margin in Kerala, bigger than Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's. She was riding on the popularity she earned as the Health Minister during the Nipah outbreak and the Covid pandemic.
Read Also: Know your candidate | When Tharoor takes on tycoon in Thiruvananthapuram

A science teacher in school, Shailaja quit her job to become a full-time politician. She first became an MLA at the age of 39 when she was elected from Kuthuparamba in 1996. She represented Peravoor twice in 2006 and 2011, and Kuthuparamba again in 2016 when Chief Minister Vijayan made her a minister.

As the LDF's Lok Sabha candidate, her campaign started by publicising her work as the Health Minister. Her endearing nature strikes a chord with female voters cutting across generations. But central to the LDF's campaign is wooing the Muslim community, which comprises around 30 per cent to 35 per cent of voters. Left's major planks are the Citizenship Amendment Act and the possibility of a BJP win in Palakkad assembly constituency if Shafi Parambil wins in Vadakara.

Shailaja denies it. But two photographs dominate her posters in the constituency. In one, she wears a red-bordered white saree with a red blouse and in another, she wears a green-bordered white saree with a green blouse. It could be a calculated move or sheer coincidence.

Her supporters said she would have had a walkover if the Congress retained K Muraleedharan in Vadakara. "Shafi has made it hard for her. Still, she is the best bet for the LDF here. We want her to win," said a tattoo artist, holding a floating red balloon with Shailaja's image on it. He was waiting for her at Chathupeedika in Thalassery Assembly Constituency. When she arrived, the tattoo artist presented Shailaja with a portrait he had drawn for her.
Read Also: Know Your Candidate | In Thrissur, saffron star meets seasoned Congressman & popular comrade

But the bomb blast at Kaivelikkal in Kunnothuparamba Grama Panchayat in Koothuparamba Assembly segment on April 5 may change the game. The country bomb exploded while being made in a house near Panoor, killing an alleged CPM worker and injuring two. Vinod, one of the injured, is a close relative of panchayat president Latha K. Vineesh (24), the second person injured is the son of another CPM local committee member. Police have arrested six persons linked to CPM. "Shailaja is slipping. Shafi has the momentum now," said a former SFI leader turned lawyer turned restaurateur in Vadakara on April 3.

Damodaran, a tailor in Chokli and resident of CPM bastion Panniyannur, said Vadaraka MLA K K Rema, wife of the late T P Chandrasekharan, was the main hurdle. "She is working hard for Shafi," he said. "But Shailaja will get more votes than P Jayarajan," he said.

Shafi Parambil
When the Congress's Shafi Parambil made a 'mass entry' in Vadakara on March 11, his rival and LDF's most popular candidate K K Shailaja was already sweating it out for 10 days in the Lok Sabha Constituency. By the first week of April, both the LDF and the UDF supporters on the ground said Shafi Parambil and Shailaja were running neck to neck. "Whoever wins, the margin will not be more than 3,000 votes," said the restaurateur in Vadakara. 

On February 25, three-time MLA of Palakkad Shafi Parambil  (41) had around 3,00,000 followers on his Instagram page. On April 2, less than a month after the Congress fielded him in the Vadakara Lok Sabha seat, the number of his followers jumped by 50 per cent to 4,50,000. "My Instagram is buzzing. It is a reflection of the reception I am getting in Vadakara," he said.

Shafi Parambil is fist-bumping his way into the hearts of the people of Vadakara. He would not only pose for selfies but take their phones and click himself. If he has to play cricket or football, he won't hesitate to don the jersey and hit the ground.

Show more

"From the time he arrived here, he has been harvesting votes," said a teacher at CSI Christian Muller Women's College in Vadakara. She was bowled over when Shafi Parambil visited her college.

"Last five years, we did not know we had an MP. If the Congress had fielded K Muraleedharan again in Vadakara, I would have surely voted for Shailaja Teacher," she said.

That is one point where UDF and LDF supporters do not disagree. "I love how he connects with children and plays with them. If Vadakara sees a jump in youths casting their votes, I will attribute it to Shafi," said the college teacher.

Shafi Parambil (41) first became an MLA at the age of 29 when he won from Palakkad in 2011.

Unlike the LDF's campaign, Shafi Parambil --  who was mentored by Oommen Chandy -- never utters the 'M' word. "I won in Palakkad not because of Muslim votes but because of secular votes. If I win in Vadakara, it will be because of secular votes," he said.

The UDF's camp is relying on the anti-incumbency factor against the state government, and the perceived violent politics of the CPM in 'party villages', to turn the table on Shailaja.

A voter in Palakkad said that Shafi Parambil knows how to be present everywhere. "He knows how to work hard for his constituency and importantly take credit for it. In that sense, he is a shrewd politician," the voter said.

C R Praphul Krishnan
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has less than 8 per cent vote share in Vadakara, has fielded C R Praphul Krishnan, a firebrand leader and state president of the BJP's youth wing, Yuva Morcha.

As a measure of his popularity, his Instagram page has 8,872 followers. But outside social media too, Praphul Krishnan is not so popular among the electorate. Several voters said they heard of him after the BJP announced his name. But within the party, he is a promising leader, following the trajectory of BJP state president K Surendran.

During his campaigning, Praphul Krishnan highlights the developmental projects and welfare schemes implemented by the Union government and promises to develop beach tourism in Vadakara. He is also promising a Kalaripayattu University in Vadakara. But BJP would expect him to increase its votes from 80,000 it got in 2019.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.