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Kerala Assembly Elections 2016: Candidates to watch out for

April 19, 2016

As the stage gets set for the elections for the 140 assembly seat in Kerala due on May 16, political heavyweights and star candidates would surely create an impact in the state elections, tipped to be three-cornered for the first time with the BJP-led NDA emerging as a serious contender in at least 30 seats. In case the BJP wins any seat in Kerala, it would be a first for the party. It fancies its chances because of its improved performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where it polled 10.3 per cent votes, as well as in 2015 civic elections where it not only polled an all time high 13.3 per cent, but for the first time, gained power in a local body by taking control of the Palakkad municipality.

Kerala Assembly Polls 2016 : Candidates in Fray

Chances for BJP and LDF

Yet, it seems a long way to go for the BJP in one of its last frontiers. Even in Palakkad district, it has to confront the formidable ex-CM V.S. Achuthanandan of the CPI(M), who is the Left Democratic Front candidate from Malampuzha in Palakkad district. Given the fact that he is among the most popular leaders and a huge crowd-puller, and also the fact that with the exception of 1977, no incumbent government returned to power in the largely bipolar elections, Achuthanandan and the LDF stand a chance to return to power by defeating the Congress-led ruling United Democratic Front.

However, a ticket to Achuthanandan also means scope for a factional war within the Left where his colleague and CPI(M) politiburo member, Pinarayi Vijayan, is another strong CM aspirant. Vijayan was the longest serving secretary of the state unit of CPI(M) from 1998 to 2015. That both he and Achutanandan control rival factions of the party is a much publicized fact. In fact On 26 May 2007 the CPI(M) had temporarily suspended both Pinarayi Vijayan and Achuthanandan from the politburo for their public remarks on each other. Vijayan is contesting from Dharmadam in Kannur district after having kept himself away from the poll race all these years.

Challenges Before Kerala CM

The respective moves of both these Left stalwarts, which will be watched keenly, will definitely impact the prospects of the incumbent CM, Oommen Chandy. He has delivered as CM in the last five years and this is signified by Kerala’s GDP which has been higher than the national average during 2012-2014. However, the corruption charges, larger awareness among the people (Kerala has 100% literacy rate) and the state’s history of not bringing the incumbent government to power for the second time, pose a challenge before Chandy.

He is contesting for a record 11th time from Puthupally constituency of Kottayam district, which he has been representing since 1970. He is pitted against Jaick C. Thomas of the LDF, and BJP’s George Kurian. Last time he defeated Suja Susan George (LDF) by 33,255 votes. Can he keep his record intact this time, too, is to be seen, particularly when multi-crore solar and land scams have perceptibly dented his image and even caused a split with key alliance partners – Kerala Congress, JDU and RSP.

The Land and Solar scams resulted in denial of ticket to Chandy’s close confidante and sitting MLA from Thrikkakara, Benny Behanan. Instead, the ticket has been given to P.T. Thomas. The decision to drop Behanan was reportedly taken after the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s intervention. It further dents Chandy’s image and he desperately needs a victory to clear the stigma. If his government returns, it will be a validation of its ‘people-friendly’ policies! But can he keep his party intact? For this, even P.T. Thomas’ performance would matter. Last time, Behanan had defeated the LDF rival M.E. Hassainar from Thrikkakara seat by 22406 votes. Hassainar, the ex-president of the Thrikkakara Gram Panchayat, is again the LDF candidate there.

Prospects of Ramesh Chennithala

Chandy also faces a tough challenge from his home minister Ramesh Chennithala, who, along with the state party president, VM Sudheeran, (who is not contesting), could be a formidable threat to his chair in case the UDF returns to power. Chennithala has publicly stated that “The election will be an evaluation of UDF, not Oommen Chandy” and that he, Chandy and Sudheeran had equal responsibility if Congress received a setback in the elections.

Chennithala reportedly enjoys strong support from the party high command in Delhi. Being the state president until 2014 when VM Sudheeran took over, he has also cultivated his loyalists in the party. He looks to get re-elected from Harippad, a largely rural constituency in Aleppey district.

BJP counts on O. Rajagopal

So far as the BJP is concerned, it is banking on the charisma of veteran O. Rajagopal, the star power of former Indian cricketer S. Sreesanth and Malayalam film star Bheemen Reghu.

Rajagopal, considered the tallest leader of the BJP in Kerala, had given a tough fight to Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, going down just by 10,000 votes in the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He has been fielded from Nemom assembly constituency. He could help the BJP open its account for the first time ever in Kerala Assembly.

Sreesanth

Sreesanth, who lost his Indian uniform after being dragged to spot fixing controversy, is up against state health minister V.S. Sivakumar at Thiruvananthapuram. Reghu is contesting from Pathanapuram from where yet another actor-turned-politician K. B. Ganesh Kumar, who was also the minister of Forests, Sports and Cinema till April 2013, had won successive elections as Kerala Congress (B) candidate in 2001, 2006 and 2011. This time, Kumar seeking re-election for the fourth consecutive term from the constituency as an LDF candidate against Reghu.

Kummanam Rajsekharan

The state BJP President Kummanam Rajsekharan, who was elevated to the post just before the elections, is another key candidate tasked with ensuring the BJP’s electoral success. A staunch pro-Hindu voice, his political future within the party depends on how well the BJP does. He is pitted against K. Muralidharan of the UDF, the son of late Congress veteran K. Karunakaran from Vattiyoorkavu assembly in Thiruvananthapuram.

KM Mani

Another candidate to watch out for will be 82-year-old KM Mani of Kerala Congress (M), which despite being faction-ridden at the moment, would be crucial to the UDF’s dreams of forming a government. Mani has won every time from the Pala constituency of Kottayam district since 1965. However, he had to quit as state finance minister in 2015 over bribery allegations. He received a setback on the poll-eve when the Kerala HC refused to stay the proceedings against him. In 2011, he had a close shave against NCP’s Mani C. Kappan whom Mani defeated by a narrow margin of 5,259 votes. Yet, he got some respite this time when Kerala Congress (M) leader and an ex-union minister of state in NDA-1, P.C. Thomas decided against contesting the Pala seat by turning down the reported offer of the NDA, “due to personal reasons”. Thomas had severed ties with the NDA in the past to join the LDF but has returned to the NDA fold once again.

P.K. Kunjalikutty of UDF

The UDF also banks on the performance of PK Kunjalikutty – the treasurer of IUML. He is the Industries and IT minister in the incumbent government and his party had scored its highest ever tally by winning 20 seats in the 2011 state elections, mostly in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district in northern Kerala. Kunjalikutty seeks re-election from Vengara assembly constituency where he is pitted against P.P. Basheer of LDF and P.T. Ali Haji of the BJP. In 2011, he had won the Vengara seat by defeating K.P. Ismail (LDF) by 38237 votes.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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