The election campaign in Kerala is picking up with less than a fortnight left for all its 20 Lok Sabha constituencies to go to the polls on April 16.The stakes are high for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) as it currently holds 19 of the 20 seats.The 2004 verdict brought gloom to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). But now the front is smiling as it believes it has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The UDF believes it has an edge as the LDF battles strong anti-incumbency. CPI-M Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan completes three years in office this May.Leader of Opposition Oommen Chandy told IANS that anti-incumbency is strong even in north Kerala, considered a stronghold of the LDF."Things are totally different from what we expected. There is a strong anti-government feeling. You wait and see. We are going to do extremely well," said Chandy.
The UDF also hopes to benefit from the new-found warmth between the LDF and People's Democratic Party (PDP) chief Abdul Nasir Maudany.Maudany, since his acquittal in 2007 in the 1998 Coimbatore bomb blasts case, has been a strong supporter of the CPI-M."The Maudany issue is going to cost the CPI-M dear. Are you not reading the newspapers? Every day some new allegations against Maudany is surfacing. And they (CPI-M) are already feeling the heat," said Chandy.
Another scam that is hogging the headlines in the state is the SNC Lavalin case, in which CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan is an accused. He is charged with wrongly awarding a contract to a Canadian company for the renovation of two hydro-power projects when he was power minister 12 years ago.But Vijayan remains unperturbed and says he is confident that people will back him and his party."The people of Kerala know about the Lavalin case and this is not going to influence them," says Vijayan.
On ties with Maudany, Vijayan said: "It was Maudany who came forward with his party's support for us. Don't forget when he was in jail, it was the UDF which asked for his party's support."The PDP had supported the UDF in the 2001 state assembly polls. At that time Maudany was lodged in a jail in Coimbatore for alleged terror links.The campaign at several places has become intense and skirmishes between the workers of major parties have been reported.
The campaign is expected to peak with the arrival of leaders like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi who are expected to address 15 public meetings in the state.The Left is also bringing in its national leaders like CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat and the Communist Party of India's A.B. Bardhan.Chandy admitted that one lacuna in his party is that, unlike the Left cadres, his party workers are yet to get fully involved in the campaign.
"Yes, our cadres are always late off the block when it comes to the campaign. But the arrival of national leaders will enthuse the party workers during the final thrust," he said.