South Kerala a crucial battleground for fronts

Several closely fought constituencies in the region

South Kerala seems to be at the epicentre of a bitterly contested Assembly election. As the State gets closer to voting on April 6, the race appeared to remain close in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts.

Several constituencies in the region are closely fought ideological battlefronts for the three opposing fronts led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Topping the list of critical battlegrounds, arguably, is Kazhakuttam. Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran is locked in a fierce electoral fight with Sobha Surendran of the BJP. Central to their conflict is the sensitive issue of equal right for women to worship at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.

The two had found themselves at the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum when the Supreme Court allowed women, irrespective of their age, to worship at the temple. Ms. Surendran was at the forefront of the agitation against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s decision to enact the verdict in 2018.

The BJP has invested heavily in Ms. Surendran. Party heavyweights, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, has campaigned for Ms. Surendran in Kazhakuttam. A law to defend Ayyappa devotees’ faith is the flagship of the BJP’s Assembly election manifesto for Kerala.

Congress has fielded S.S. Lal, a public health expert.

Thiruvananthapuram district has a history of being partial to the LDF. The ruling front won 10 of the 14 Assembly segments in 2016. It also wrested Vattiyurkavu from the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 2019 byelection. The LDF had fared modestly well in the local body elections in 2020.

Prestige at stake

Nemom is an equally critical fighting ground. O. Rajagopal of the BJP is the incumbent legislator. BJP veteran Kummanam Rajasekharan is jousting K. Muraleedharan, MP, of the Congress and V. Sivankutty of the CPI(M) to retain Mr. Rajagopal’s mantle. Congress’s prestige is at stake in Nemom. It had drawn flak for “aiding” Mr. Rajagopal’s win in 2016. Moreover, the party has committed Mr. Muraleedharan to the fight as its standard-bearer.

In both Nemom and Thiruvananthapuram, Muslim and Christian voters could make a difference between triumph and disaster for the coalitions.

BJP’s hope

Another big fight is brewing in the Konni constituency in Pathanamthitta. BJP State president K. Surendran hopes to gatecrash into the Assembly by banking on the rising acceptance of the BJP among Hindus in the home ground of the Sabarimala faith.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had campaigned for Mr. Surendran in Konni. His presence underscored the political importance the BJP attached to the constituency. The party viewed the segment as a powerful springboard for Hindutva politics in Kerala. It has also sensed a political opportunity in the Nair Service Society’s (NSS) antipathy to the LDF on the Sabarimala issue. The NSS has considerable electoral clout in the district. Various Christian denominations also have a decisive say in the poll outcome. The BJP feels that ‘love jihad’, UDF’s alleged truck with the Jamaat-e-Islami and concern about the rise of global Islamism, had caused Christians to gravitate towards its brand of nationalistic politics in Central and South Kerala. The LDF feels that Jacobite and Marthomites were likely to vote for them given the factional row in the Malankara Syrian Church.

Fishers’ have the say

In Kundara in Kollam, Congress reckons that a win for its star candidate P.C. Vishnunath against Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty would validate the party’s coastal campaign against the government’s alleged move to allow foreign trawlers to raid the high seas preserved for traditional fishers.

The LDF had struggled to fend off the accusation that seemed to have resonated strongly among the coastal community. Moreover, the Latin Catholic Church had given voice to the fishers’ disquiet about the controversial scheme. Traditional fishers were a crucial demographic in Kollam.

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