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Will it be Kerala's second Muslim CM?

It might create history again if a communist from here ends up becoming Kerala's second Muslim chief minister.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 22:07 IST

A long, long time ago Ponnani was a major business centre for Arab merchants. It might create history again if a communist from here ends up becoming Kerala's second Muslim chief minister.

Although Paloli Mohammed Kutty of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) stands a good chance of winning the coming assembly elections, not everyone is sure if he will indeed get the coveted post.

Kerala had a Muslim chief minister when CH Mohammed Koya of the Muslim League assumed office on October 12, 1979, but his four-member cabinet was forced to resign on December 1 the same year.

Ponnani is a small coastal town in Malappuram district nestled partially on the banks of a backwater and partially on the Arabian Sea coast. The constituency's voter population is 148,000.

It is an area where the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) - a constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) - once held sway.

But the winds are blowing differently, with more and more voters seemingly tilting towards the Left Democratic Front (LDF) of the CPI-M.

Election fever has gripped Ponnani. Its narrow streets echo with relentless messages blared from loudhailers by both the LDF and the UDF seeking support for their respective candidates.

On the one hand, the CPI-M asks people to vote for "Comrade Paloli Mohammed Kutty", on the party's well-known sickle-and-hammer symbol.

Pitted against him is PV Gangadharan, the 2001 victor and a leader of the Democratic Indira Congress-Karunakaran of former chief minister K Karunakaran whose election symbol is a television set.

The IUML has thrown its weight behind Gangadharan, who last time bagged over 58,000 votes defeating the CPI-M's TK Hamza.

Ponnani, known as the 'Small Makkah' for Muslims in Kerala, has seen a lot of development projects in recent years.

Be it the 'jhangar' (ferry service for motor vehicles) that links Tirur, a key Malappuram town, to Ponnani, an upcoming fishing harbour, a new hospital or the newly constructed roads, both the UDF and the LDF claim credit for them.

"Gangadharan's entire development funds have been utilized for Ponnani," asserted V Saithumohammed Thangal, the district president of the DIC-K.

According to him, the entire Ponnani had been developed with the effort of Gangadharan, who had been elected a legislator from the constituency in 1977, 1982 and 2003.

But LDF workers in an office just across the road rubbish the claims.

"All the government-sponsored development works have been carried out in this constituency during the LDF reign," said CG Tharanathan, a CPI-M leader.

The man on the street seems to believe that the CPI-M veteran has the better chances of winning.

"Gangadharan would have been a good candidate if the DIC-K had not committed the political flip-flops," said Ayub, a businessman, referring to party leader K. Karunakaran's departure from the Congress, its opposition to the Congress when it flirted with the Marxists, and its bizarre return to the Congress fold.

But most voters are not sure that Kutty could be the chief minister if the LDF takes power in Kerala.

"He is not the only one aspirant (to the post). There are two others: (CPI-M state secretary) Pinarayi Vijayan and (Leader of Opposition) VS Achuthanandan. Only the CPI-M knows who will be the chief minister," said Ashraf, a fisherman.

It is an opinion that is widely shared.