PTI | ByAG Kannan, Press Trust of India, Kozhikode
May 01, 2004 08:55 PM IST

Veerendrakumar gains from LDF's systematic campaign

With a clear edge on the campaign front over his rival V Balram of the Congress, Janata Dal veteran MP Veerendrakumar is making an all-out bid to regain the Kozhikode seat for the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which he represented in Parliament in 1996.

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Veerendrakumar's familiarity with the area, systematic campaign of LDF workers and issues dominating the poll debate all force Balram to make extra efforts to catch up with his rival as electioneering moves to a decisive phase.

The internal bickerings in the Congress and open resentment expressed over the choice of candidate for the prestigious seat had made Balram's campaign sluggish in the initial rounds.

Hailing from Thrissur district, Balram was pitchforked to fight it out in Kozhikode by his mentor K Karunakaran after he vacated the Wadakkancherry assembly seat for the senior leader's son and power Minister K Muraleedharan to make it to the assembly.

Veerendrakumar has the advantage of being a known figure in the area, not merely as a politician, but as a writer, orator and frontline campaigner on a host of issues, ranging from the threats of globalisation to water rights struggles.

But what brings cheers to Balram is the electoral history of the seat, which has favoured Congress in most elections since 1952. Only rarely have non-Congress parties emerged victorious and that includes Veerendrakumar's own triumph in 1996, following which he became a minister in the Deve Gowda and IK Gujral governments.

In 1999, Muraleedharan won the seat, defeating his Janata Dal (S) rival and former Union minister CM Ibrahim by a margin of 50,402 votes. In the 2001 assembly polls, six of the seven assembly segments went the UDF way.

But since then, the area was witness to stormy events like the violent tribal landrights agitation and the Marad massacre, which claimed nine lives, for which the UDF government was under fire.

Though the fishing hamlet of Marad falls under Beypore assembly segment in the Manjery Lok Sabha seat, its ripples were felt strongly in Kozhikode.

The AK Antony Government had come under severe attack over the handling of the tribal agitation, which claimed two lives at Muthanga, under the Sulthan Bathery assembly segment in Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat.

Stretching from the high range Wayanad touching Karnataka in the east, the sprawling constituency slopes down through the midland down the ancient maritime town of Kozhikode. Like its varying geographical features, the problems faced by the area too are complex - drought hit farmlands, crash in crop prices and a threatened environs.

"People realise that the constituency is facing eco-disaster, with most areas experiencing acute water shortage and the failure of the UDF government to combat it effectively," says Veerendrakumar.

"People are aware of the magnitude of the problems the area is facing. There is a perceptible change in their attitude and they are offering support even before I ask for it," said Veerendrakumar.

The LDF's vigorous election work and the personal influence of his rival did not, however, dishearten Balaram, who has stepped up efforts to retain the seat for the Congress.

"People have begun to see me as the man-next-door," Balram, who is criss-crossing the constituency said.

Though initially a section of the local Congress leadership did not conceal its reservation over Balram's selection, he has later succeeded in carrying them along as the task on hand is to ensure the maximum number of seats for the party in the Lok Sabha.

The enthusiastic response to the 'Navothana Yatra', led by Chief Minister AK Antony in the area, has also revved up the morale in the UDF camp.

The Indian Union Muslim League, the second largest partner in the UDF, which has strong pockets of influence in the area, is active in the field for Balram.

While the two rival fronts are leaving no stone unturned, the BJP's youthful MT Ramesh is on an intense, but outwardly less visible campaign, focussing on direct contact with the electorate. "I believe that people will take into account the good governance of the Vajpayee Government and they will give me a chance to represent them in Parliament."

The BJP, which polled 83,000 votes last time, is confident of enhancing the vote share considerably this time.

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