Antony's 'yatra' aiding UDF

PTI | BySanu George, Indo-Asian News Service, Thiruvananthapuram
May 01, 2004 06:56 PM IST

Despite a late start as far as canvassing goes, the UDF in Kerala is fast gaining ground. Kerala CM AK Antony's state-wide yatra is drawing in huge crowds, a positive sign feels Antony.

It was late off the blocks, but the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala seems to be making up for lost time with a crowd pulling campaign tour by Chief Minister AK Antony.

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Antony claims his 'Navothana Yatra' is helping the Congress-led UDF put up a show of strength for the Lok Sabha polls in the state on May 10 even though it was being written off only days earlier.

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The tour, which began April 20 from Manjeswaram, has so far covered 100 out of the 140 assembly constituencies. It will end here May 4.

"If people, as written by one section of the media, did not like me, would I be able to travel like this? Despite the weather, people are coming in large numbers to hear me," Antony told IANS.

"Yes, we have had problems but after explaining things to people during the campaign tour, they have understood what I mean. When the tour began I had said the elections would be tough, but seeing the response from people, the toughness has eased," Antony told IANS.

In the dissolved Lok Sabha, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had nine seats, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) 10 and the NDA one seat.

The UDF was late in announcing its 20 candidates and also in kicking off electioneering.

The LDF camp was in an upbeat mood and was expected to stage one of its best ever Lok Sabha performances by increasing their tally from 10 to anywhere between 13 and 15 seats this time.

But Antony's campaign tour, it seems, could play spoilsport.

State Irrigation Minister TM Jacob, who has been with Antony through the tour, told IANS that the UDF camp had definitely gained since the campaign began.

"Yes, of course, there were problems within the UDF, especially in the Congress, but as the campaign draws to an end, the stock of the UDF is improving day by day. We think the results will spring a surprise," said Jacob.

The UDF's campaign has been particularly successful in the constituencies of Kasaragod, Kannur, Chiryankil, Kollam, Kottayam and Idukki, all of which are currently held by the LDF.

At the Mukundapuram constituency, UDF candidate Congress veteran K Karunakaran's daughter Padmaja Venugopal has been able to make deep inroads into the LDF campaign, sources say. In the outgoing Lok Sabha, the seat was represented by Karunakaran himself.

Similarly, in seats held by the UDF in the last Lok Sabha such as Alapuzha, Mavelikkara, Thrissur, Ponnani and Manjeri, its candidates are in a better position than at the beginning of the campaign.

In Thiruvananthapuram and Adoor, however, the battle appears to be stiff.

The LDF is putting up a show of confidence at Palakkad, Ottappalam, Vadakara and Ernakulam. MP Veerendara Kumar of the Janata Dal is hoping to win from Kozhikode, which is currently a UDF seat.

Muvattupuzha, the seat which central minister PC Thomas won in the last poll, is seeing a three-cornered contest, with the UDF and LDF candidates giving him a tough fight.

Thomas had won the seat five times in a row on a UDF ticket, but in 2001 he joined the National Democratic Alliance government.

Another reason for the UDF camp to be in a buoyant mood is the wholehearted support by its major ally, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).

The party had turned the tables against the UDF candidate in the Ernakulam Lok Sabha by-election in September last year. They expressed their strong dissent on a statement by Antony against the minority community in May last year.

"Today our main aim is to see that the Congress party emerges as the single biggest party in the 14th Lok Sabha. To help preserve the secular nature of India, the Congress should come to power in India," said IUML chief Panakkad Mohamed Ali Shihab Thangal.

"The new found unity in the state unit of the Congress party is good. Antony's statement about the minority community don't matter in this election."

And UDF leaders expect that the two-day visit of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi from May 5 will boost its fortunes further.

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