A spirited tussle is on in Kollam, famed as the 'cashew county', between CPI-M's P Rajendran and Sooranad Rajasekharan of the Congress, with each trying to capitalise on internal developments in the opposite camp and blaming each other for the problems of the area.
Suave and soft-spoken Rajendran, who won the seat last time by a margin of over 19,000 over his Congress rival, has a formidable opponent in Rajasekharan, a familiar figure in the area as a corporator and DCC chief.
Once a commercial hub of the Western coast, the crisis in the cashew sector, which has rendered thousands jobless due to lock-outs, closures and shifting of factories over the years, is a burning issue in the area, for which UDF and the LDF find fault with each other.
A cradle of trade union movement and represented by such stalwarts as RSP's legendary leader N Sreekantan Nair in Parliament, the Congress broke the Left monopoly in 1980 with party nominee BK Nair flying the tricolour over Kollam. From 1984 to 1991, former union minister S Krishnakumar, now a BJP aspirant in nearby Mavelikkara, retained the seat for Congress.
The LDF regained Kollam in 1996, with RSP's Premachandran trouncing Krishnakumar by an impreessive margin of over 78,000 votes. Premachandran, now a Rajya Sabha member, repeated the victory in 1998.
Sensing the winnability of the seat, in 1999, 'big brother' CPI-M snatched the seat from the RSP, ignoring protests from the minor ally.
Much water has flown down the Ashtamudi Lake since 1999, with the RSP suffering a vertical split and an influential section now sharing power as a partner in the ruling UDF.
Another development expected to have an impact in the area is the formation of the 'Left Front' floated by BTR-EMS-AKG Janakeeya Vedi led by dissident CITU leader VB Cheriyan.The Vedi has been able to rope in some prominent trade union leaders from the area, which could dent the CPI-M vote bank.
The official RSP, which is still part of the LDF, had its share of woes this time too, with the CPI-M sternly rejecting its efforts to secure a Parliamentary seat in the state.
Making a vigerous bid to regain the seat for the Congress, Rajasekharan is pinning his hopes on these factors.
Undeterred by schismic trends in the Left camp, Rajendran hopes that the chord he had been able to strike with local people and the "anti-incumbency feeling against the UDF government" will help him increase his winning margin this time.
Besides, his Congress rival had been the butt of a vicious attack from his own party leaders like Rajmohan Unnithan and Saratchandra Prasad over the choice of candidate for the Kollam seat.
As in other places in the state, in Kollam too the LDF had begun its poll work much in advance of the UDF rival, with party squads making repeated door-to-door rounds.
The BJP, which had not been able to make a mark so far, had this time found an astute campaigner in K Sudhakaran. Though all concede that the main fight is between the LDF and UDF this time as well, BJP workers are not disheartened, doing their bit of day and night campaigning to prove the party's growing clout.