The crowds of people waiting at Kurupathal Junction at Kolathur in Malappuram were holding green flags in their hands. Soon, Indian Union of Muslim League candidate P K Kunhalikutty reached Kurupathal and got a rousing reception.
Malappuram is the stronghold of the IUML, an ally of the United Democratic Front in the state. Monday is the final day of campaigning in this constituency, which fell vacant after the death of IUML MP and former Minister E Ahmed.
Kunhalikutty was in a hurry to meet as many voters as he could and as he spoke to TNM on the sidelines of his campaign, he was exuding confidence.
His first criticism was reserved for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The performance of the LDF government is not up to expectations, not even average, he says. â€śThe LDF havenâ€™t succeeded in achieving what they had promised in their election manifesto. As a Chief Minister, it is Pinarayi Vijayanâ€™s responsibility to perform well. He has to improve his performance.â€ť
In Malappuram, the UDF is raising issues of price rise in essential commodities in the state and the leak of the 10th standard Mathematics question paper. Campaign vehicles with loudspeakers remind people that it was great shame for the state that the examination had to be re-scheduled.
Kunhalikutty believes that the way police handled engineering student Jishnu Pranoyâ€™s parentâ€™s protest had thoroughly exposed their shoddiness. Police attitude had been criticized even when the UDF had been in power. â€śBut we had shown more patience. In some circumstances we should be able to effectively communicate to people, and communication failed this time,â€ť he points out.
So will the police fiasco give UDF an edge in Malappuram? â€śWe have had the edge from the beginning. But I should say that the police have bungled the whole issue,â€ť Kunhalikutty says.
Kunhalikutty was an accused in the sensational Ice Cream Parlour case and he was acquitted in 2006 after a long legal battle.
Senior CPI (M) leader and former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan was leading the battle against Kunhalikutty in the case, where it was alleged that minors and young women were being lured into an ice cream parlour and sexually exploited.
During a recent campaign for the LDF candidate in Malappuram, Achuthanandan once again spoke about the ice cream parlour case. Though Kunjalikutty had refused to react to media queries on Achutananandanâ€™s jibe, he told TNM that he was unhappy. â€śI donâ€™t understand why he is doing it again. Is it enjoyable to do so? Politics should be based on current issues, their merits and demerits, not on personal attacks. People wonâ€™t listen any more to personal attacks. I havenâ€™t said anything against V S Acuthanandan in my entire career.â€ť
From the beginning of the campaign, BJP has been alleging that Pinarayi Vijayan was acting in collusion with the UDF to make Kunhalikuttyâ€™s victory easier. Kunhalikutty rejected the allegation saying, â€śThe BJP doesnâ€™t have anything particular to highlight which forces them to utter baseless allegations. They are talking about trivial issues like supplying of beef to deviate peopleâ€™s attention.â€ť
Currently a legislator representing Vengara, an Assembly constituency under Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency, Kunhalikutty believes that certain political and social issues prompted him to become the IUML candidate.
â€śThe party picked me to contest the election at a time when it has become essential for all secular forces to unit together. If elected, my main agenda would be to bring together all forces to fight the fascist agenda. Only fascist forces would decide on what people should wear and what they should eat. Thatâ€™s not a democratic philosophy. When UPA was in power at the Centre the situation was not the same. Our objective would be to prevent the Modi government from coming back to power for the second consecutive term. If secular forces across all states stay united, the BJP wonâ€™t be able to come back to power. In the long run, people will reject them, just like they did in Punjab and Delhi.â€ť
The Malappuram seat fell vacant after the death of former Union Minister and senior leader E Ahamedâ€™s death in February. Ahamed won the election in 2014 with a thumping majority of around two lakhs votes. Kunhalikutty says that he hasnâ€™t thought much about the numbers, but would like to increase the margin. â€śPeople say that this time the margin would be more than two lakhs,â€ť he chuckles.