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The men who may wear the coveted crown

india Updated: Apr 10, 2011 19:15 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
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Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ramesh Chennithala is vocal, and has a sense of humour to boot. Having arrived in this bustling town after whirlwind pit stops, the man who might be king in Kerala appears to have no doubts about the United Democratic Front (UDF) victory.

"We've been on a roll, winning panchayat elections, the Lok Sabha elections, and we can go only ever upward," he says with somewhat misplaced optimism. He settles himself into a velvet sofa beneath a gigantic chandelier, framed by hothouse plastic flowers. An incongruous picture, made worse by electric blue velvet curtains in the background.

The Left Democratic Front's misrule or rather lack of rule will see it out of government, he says. Across the state, there is a feeling that the LDF did not perform to par either in the field of investment or employment, but not everyone buys Chennithala's doomsday predictions.

"A chief minister from the last century cannot lead Kerala especially when his own party is at loggerheads with him," he adds direly. A call comes through from a television channel asking for his comments on the death of the head of the Syro-Malabar church head, Major Archbishop Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil.

He immediately puts on a grave Sanskritised tone, assuring the channel that the dead cleric was indeed the father of all Keralites. The next minute he is all smiles as he lists all those whom the Left has alienated. "The Muslims have turned against it, the Nairs have also, no one has time for the politics of vengeance anymore. The Left cannot get away with playing the old record any more. A jackfruit can fall on a rabbit and kill it only once. The next time the jackfruit falls, the rabbit will not be below it," he says laughing uproariously at his own joke.

But when asked whether his hat was in the ring for chief ministership, he became coy saying only the high command could decide on this. But on the question whether Oomen Chandy would be chief minister, he firmly denied that any such candidature has been decided, invoking the all-powerful high command again.

Not too far away, in neighbouring Alapuzha, the man who could be chief minister is holding forth on the need for sustainable development. Once again, the focus of Oommen Chandy's ire is the octogenarian chief minister, whom he describes as a spent force.

"The cases of molestation of women are at an all time high under the Left." But he was a little evasive on why his own party had fielded only eight women this time. But Chandy is on the backfoot when asked about his involvement in the infamous palmolein case, thundering that he would fight any further allegations legally and morally.

Under the Left, Kerala has plunged from second-best state for investment to 17th, the worst at 18th being West Bengal, he says as though that absolves him. He rattles off the state's problems, the highest national incidence of suicides, alcohol addiction and road accidents. His government will deal with all this, he says, but it will be the high command which will decide who will actually be in the hot seat.

In distant Thrissur, yet another man who may be king, union minister for overseas Indians and civil aviation, Vayalar Ravi, also waits for word on who will come up trumps once this bitterly contested election is over.