The election battle in Alathur is between two relatively younger people, that is to say, young in politics. Forty-five-year-old PK Biju and 32-year old Remya Haridas are facing off against each other.
PK Biju is the sitting MP of CPI (M), who had won the seat in 2009 as well, while Remya Haridas is contesting for the Congress. Remya is one of the two women candidates of the Congress. Shanimol Usman is the other woman candidate, who is contesting from Alappuzha.
Remya was picked by the Congress High Command as the Alathur choice when she was holding the post of Block Panchayat President of Kunnamangalam in Kozhikode district. She is a native of Kuttikattur in Kozhikode.
The battle has garnered even more attention because of the novel mode of Remya’s campaign. The young woman has gone ‘out of the way’ to connect with voters in a place where she has no roots. She would sing at gatherings of voters, something no other candidate has perhaps tried in the campaign history of the state. Her high-voltage campaign has made her one of the most debated candidates on social media.
Biju is also an outsider. Hailing from Manjur in Kottayam, the CPI (M) had picked him for the seat in 2009.
Both Remya and Biju have humble family origins. Biju's parents, Kuttappan and Bhavani, are agricultural workers. Remya's father Haridas is a daily wage worker and mother Radha, a tailor.
In the BJP-led NDA, the Alathur seat has been allotted to the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS). TV Babu is the candidate for the NDA.
Congress to LDF: Alathur since 2008
Alathur constituency in Palakkad district came into existence in 2008. It has been a seat reserved for Scheduled Castes.
It was the Ottappalam constituency that was transformed into Alathur in 2008. Ottappalam had been known as the seat of former President KR Narayanan, who won the seat three times for the Congress. Narayanan won the seat in 1984 and in two consecutive elections thereafter.
But after that, the constituency has always eluded the Congress. In 1993, the LDF won the seat through K Sivaraman; in 1996 and 2009, A Ajayakumar won the seat for the Left.
Biju had won the seat in the two elections after Alathur came into existence.
Biju made his debut in electoral politics when the party chose him in 2009. He was the national president of the Students Federation of India (SFI) then.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, the LDF won in six assembly constituencies in Alathur, barring Vadakkancherry. Even in Vadakkancherry, the victory margin of Anil Akkare of the Congress was a mere 43 votes.
Remya has grabbed headlines from the moment she was nominated. Whether it's writer Deepa Nishant's snide remarks on Remya singing during campaign or LDF convenor A Vijayaraghavan's sexist statement against her, she has been at the centre of attention.
While these controversies have gained Remya sympathy and even acceptance, Biju has maintained a dignified silence. The CPI (M) candidate has largely campaigned based on his previous work and has stayed away from targeting his rival.
Fighting the outsider tag
Remya is seen as one of the promising young politicians, although she holds the outsider tag. “But the people here have accepted me as one among them,” she tells TNM.
When asked what she feels about her candidacy in a Left bastion, and being chosen for the sake of someone contesting from there, she says, “I don’t think so. I am bound to take any responsibility the party entrusts me with.”
Remya had emerged as one of the frontrunners during Rahul Gandhi's talent hunt for upcoming leaders in 2010. She was also one of the 10 delegates to attend the 'Ship for World Youth Programme’ — a training programme to nurture young leaders.
Biju on his part has been able to erase the outsider tag with his two consecutive victories. In 2009, he defeated NK Sudheer of the UDF with a majority of 20,960 votes. In 2014, his majority increased to 37,444 when his nearest rival was KA Sheeba of the Congress. Biju’s performance in the Parliament with 86% attendance also works in his favour.
Besides, Biju seeks votes in the name of measures he had taken for addressing the drinking water shortage in the region. Palakkad is one of the most drought-hit regions in the state. He had also worked to address the educational backwardness of the region. But Biju has been criticised for his absence in the constituency.
"We won’t see him here in Alathur. But since it is a Left stronghold, that won’t affect the possibilities of the party. Personally, however, my vote is for the Congress," says Mohammed Kutty, a vegetable vendor in Alathur.
For Thushar, a young voter, both the candidates are equally appealing. “But of course, since Remya is a fresh face, people are keen and curious to watch her campaigns, especially since she does it in a different way.”
Fish vendors of Kuzhalmandam, Mohammed and Kunjahammed, believe that nothing can impact the Left candidate in the constituency. Echoing the same opinion, they say, "Why are some people complaining that Biju is not here in the constituency? An MP can't be stationed here all the time. The Left only will win, perhaps the margin may be less."