Enough of comedy, Premachandran challenges Mukesh to a debate

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At election meetings, it is usual for Mukesh to belittle Premachandran for his development claims. Photo: File/ Manorama Online.

Kollam's sitting MP and UDF candidate N K Premachandran is not finding his rival M Mukesh's references to him in stump speeches funny. In a Facebook live the other day, Premachandran challenged Mukesh to a public debate on their respective performances as MP and MLA.

"The LDF candidate is using a disrespectful tone and language unheard of in the past," Premachandran said. "It will seem too one-sided and arbitrary if I leave his taunts unanswered," he said.

At election meetings, it is usual for Mukesh to belittle Premachandran for his development claims. He is especially critical of Premachandran for taking credit for the Rs-361-crore redevelopment of Kollam Railway Station. Mukesh refers to the popular comedy programme Badai Bungalow to make fun of his rival.

"When the MP speaks of the railway station, the BJP will scream in protest. First, let them come to an understanding of who owns the railway station. To be honest, I cannot create such comedy even in Badai Bungalow. If I say that I have a railway station, an Assembly and a Parliament, I would be asked to shut up saying there is no logic," Mukesh says during street-corner election speeches.

Now, Premachandran wants Mukesh to engage him directly. "It was he who first challenged me. I accepted it. I said we will have a debate anywhere, at the time of his choosing," Premachandran said. "Recently, when asked about this (by journalists), he said he had better things to do. He charged that I was running away from a debate," the MP said.

He said that debates were in fact planned by various news channels with the candidates. "Why didn't these debates take place," Premachandran asked, implying that Mukesh had backed out.

Premachandran was particularly resentful about Mukesh's taunt related to the Kollam Railway Station. "He has gone around projecting my mention of the development of the Kollam Railway Station as a major drawback. I don't understand what is wrong with that," he said.

The MP said the Kollam station was among the first railway stations in the country to be selected for redevelopment. "The MLA has claimed credit for projects under centrally sponsored schemes like Jal Jeevan Mission and AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) Scheme but is uncomfortable when I take credit for the work I had done for the Kollam Railway Station," Premachandran said. He said it was he who had first moved a submission in Parliament to include Kollam under the AMRUT scheme.

He also disputed the figure (Rs 1748 crore) put out by Mukesh as his contribution to the development of Kollam. Many of the amounts Mukesh claimed he had spent for Kollam, especially by way of drinking water projects and city road improvement works, Premachandran said were meant not just for Kollam but for other neighbouring constituencies like Eravipuram and Chavara as well. "Are the other MLAs so irrelevant that the Kollam MLA can take credit for the spending done in other constituencies," Premachandran asked.

He also charged Mukesh with serious negligence. He said Mukesh had not attended even a single meeting held to review centrally sponsored schemes in the district, even of the schemes for which he has taken credit.

"After failing to take part in any such meetings, it is unfortunate that the LDF candidate has taken it upon himself to coach us about development," Premachandran said.

Premachandran also hinted that he was far more accessible than Mukesh. "I am available on the phone 24x7. I am available anytime, even at midnight or early in the morning," he said, a comment meant to activate public memory about controversies related to Mukesh's allegedly rude behaviour towards people calling him on the phone. The actor was once provoked by a midnight caller and, in fury, had used unparliamentary language.

On top of all this, Premachandran wants a debate on performance. "I have published a detailed report of my interventions in Parliament in the last 10 years. Similarly, can you publish the statistical data of your Assembly performance? First, tell us how many times have you raised your voice for Kollam in the Kerala Assembly?" he said.

Mukesh, however, has not responded to Premachandran's challenge. According to sources, the LDF campaign strategists have asked Mukesh to move away from Premachandran's bait.

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