With just a little over a month left for the Assembly polls in Kerala, the election scene is hotting up with Congress-led ruling UDF, CPI-M headed LDF and BJP alliance declaring their candidates and hitting the campaign trail.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the spearhead of UDF campaign along with KPCC President V M Sudheeran and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, have been focussing on ‘development initiatives’ taken by the UDF regime in the past five years as seeks to retain power.
The opposition LDF has said its poll plank will be allegations of corruption against UDF government, especially charges related to solar and bar bribery scams and land assignment issues.
BJP is approaching the voters by presenting itself as the ‘third alternative’ to UDF and LDF in the state.
Chandy and 18 of his cabinet colleagues -- eight from Congress and ten from other UDF constituents -- figure among those fielded for the May 16 elections.
Only two members of Chandy Cabinet Aryadan Muhammed (Power) and C N Balakrishnan (Cooperation), both Congress, are not contesting this time.
Congress is contesting 83 of the 140 Assembly seats at stake in the state, leaving the rest to its partners.
IUML, the second largest UDF partner, has been alloted 24 seats, followed by KC-M 15, JD-U seven, RSP five, KC-J two seats and CMP one seat.
The remaining three seats of Kanhangad, Kalliasseri and Payyannur, all in North Kerala, would be contested by UDF-backed independent candidates as per the agreement reached among the front partners.
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Besides Chandy and Chennithala, other Congress Ministers in the fray are Ramesh Chennithala, Adoor Prakesh, K Babu, A P Anilkumar, P K Jayakshmi, K C Joseph, V S Sivakumar and Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan.
In addition to the seasoned politicians, the party has fielded noted actor Jagadish to take on another actor K B Ganeshkumar of Kerala Congress (B) of LDF in Pathanapuram.
82-year-old Kerala Congress (M) supremo and former Finance Minister K M Mani, who had to resign over the bar bribery scam, will seek election from his home constituency Pala in Kottayam.
In the LDF camp, 93-year-old CPI-M veteran V S Achuthanandan, party politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan, Central Committee members Thomas Issac, E P Jayarajan are some of the prominent leaders in the fray.
Former state minister and CPI leader in Assembly C Divakaran and another former state minister Mullakara Divakaran are the party’s prominent candidates.
CPI-M, heading the front, would contest in 92 seats, while CPI in 27, JD (S) 5, NCP 4, Kerala Congress (Scaria faction)(one) and Congress (S)(1).
Remaining 10 seats will be contested by associates who support the LDF such as the new party Janathipathy Kerala Congress formed by a group of rebels in Kerala Congress (M) led Francis George, the Indian National League (3), a faction of CMP, RSP (L), and Kerala Congress (B) one each.
Actor Mukesh, M V Nikesh Kumar, mediaperson and son of former CMP leader M V Raghavan, and journalist Veena George, and media critic Sebastian Paul are among LDF candidates.
In this, Paul will contest and LDF independent while others as CPI-M candidates on the party symbol.
LDF has 16 women candidates and there are no major changes in the number of seats being contested by each party from 2011 polls.
Highlighting the corruption charges against UDF, Achuthanandan launched his campaign with a severe attack on Chandy at Malampuzha at Palakkad earlier this week.
Besides, Achuthanandan and former party state Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, and CPI state secretary Kannam Rajendran will lead the LDF campaign.
Though, the party has not declared LDF’s chief ministerial candidate, official group in the party is keen that Vijayan should get the top post.
A confident Chandy, however, has rubbished the allegations against his regime and said the LDF onslaught against him during the last five years was far worse than hitting an opponent “below the belt.”
To his credit, Chandy has managed to survive the full term though the UDF came to power with a wafer thin majority of 72 seats in the 140-member Assembly with LDF getting 68 in 2011.
Other major poll issue this time is the liquor policy of the UDF government and whether the state should opt for total prohibition as envisaged by the UDF in ten years.
The policy has resulted in the closure of bars serving Indian Made Foreign Liquor in hotels below the category of Five Star.
Seeking to position itself as the alternative in the state’s bipolar politics which has seen the UDF and LDF coming to power alternately, BJP has accused its successive governments of having put impediments in the path of development.
BJP, which has emerged as a force to reckon with in the state after its good showing in civic elections, has forged an alliance with Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a new party formed by Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), a social organisation of backward Ezhava community, alloting it 37 seats.
The saffron party with a determined bid to open its account in the state assembly has drawn candidates from different walks of life, including popular cricketer S Sreesanth, who will test his luck in the prestigious Thiruvananthapuram segment.
86-year-old former Union Minister O Rajagopal, party’s state President Kummanon Rajasekharan, V Muraleedharan, C K Padmanabhan, P K Krishnadas and P S Sreedharan Pillai, firebrand woman leader Shobha Surendran are other key candidates of BJP.