A few metres from the interminable network of paddy fields at Ayiraveli, a motley group of 20-odd people are waiting under the canopy of a huge tree. It’s 3 p.m. and stiflingly hot.
Impatience is writ large on their faces as they await the arrival of Thomas Chazhikkadan of the Kerala Congress (M), the UDF candidate. As the wait ends, a man takes hold of a microphone – his speech touching upon topics from the Rafale scam to the devastating floods last year.
The speech stops abruptly as the candidate drops in. Stepping out of his car, Mr. Chazhikkadan walks hurriedly towards a portrait of the late Kerala Congress (M) patriarch K.M. Mani at the venue. Standing solemnly in front of the picture for a few moments, he offers a floral tribute to the late leader.
“Our electioneering will remain low-key here onward,” declares Mr. Chazhikkadan, before stepping on board an open-roof vehicle. “The campaign has not even reached the halfway stage. But we have no concerns as Mani sir is still there in people’s hearts,” he says, before leaving the venue.
With less than ten days to go for the election, events have conspired this time around within the KC(M), which currently holds the Kottayam seat, to deny it an early advantage. Observers, however, feel that the wave of sympathy over the leader’s death, coupled with Mr. Chazhikkadan’s image as a non-corrupt politician, will work in the party’s favour.
V.N. Vasavan, the LDF candidate, however, holds a different view. “In Mani’s absence, the infighting in the KC(M) and resentment within the Congress against the UDF candidates have intensified,” he says, during an interaction at Piravom.
According to him, the sheer number of local agricultural produce, including sheets of natural rubber, that he receives as gifts from the voters is a clear message of the visceral opposition at the grassroots towards former MP Jose K. Mani. “As a responsible politician, I promise not to leave you in the middle for any personal gains,” Mr. Vasavan promises the voters, taking a potshot at the former MP for his sudden switch to the Rajya Sabha.
He believes that the UDF’s ploy of highlighting ‘the growth course steered by the previous MP’ will not work as Kottayam requires a lot more in terms of development.
The NDA’s campaign too is marked by an enthusiastic crowd. Wherever its candidate P.C. Thomas lands during the campaign, local functionaries of the BJP make a beeline to greet him. An experienced campaigner, Mr. Thomas knows a thing or two about the voters in Kottayam and has accordingly placed the focus on his campaign on the two planks of faith and the legacy of P.T. Chacko, his father. “If you elect me, my first speech in the Parliament will be on the protection of faith,” he declares, amidst a rousing round of applause to the people at Ayarkkunnam. Eyeing farmers’ votes, he also touches upon the rubber policy initiated by the Modi government.
Besides the three main candidates, four others including those of the BSP and the SUCI, are holding their campaigns without the customary fanfare.