At Aruvikkara, the young sitting MLA faces a candidate ‘raised’ by the party

The sitting MLA, KS Sabarinathan, son of late Congress leader G Karthikeyan, is contesting against CPI(M)’s G Steephen, who was raised by the party.
Congress MLA KS Sabarinathan and CPI(M)’s G Stephen, candidates from Aruvikkara constituency in Kerala
Congress MLA KS Sabarinathan and CPI(M)’s G Stephen, candidates from Aruvikkara constituency in Kerala
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In the 2016 Kerala Assembly elections, Congress MLA KS Sabarinathan proved that it wasn’t mere sympathy over the demise of his father G Karthikeyan that translated into votes in the much-discussed 2015 bye-election. In the last elections, Sabarinathan upped his majority with nearly 50% votes polled in favour of the 37-year-old MLA, who is a popular face in the Congress youth brigade.

The Assembly election at Aruvikkara, the erstwhile Aryanad constituency, is a family affair for Sabarinathan ever since Karthikeyan won the constituency in 1991 by defeating RSP’s K Pankajakshan. This time, the LDF has fielded CPI(M)’s Kattakkada area secretary G Steephen, who owns political lineage in a manner different from Sabarinathan.

A resident of Puthuvakkal in Kattakkada, Steephen was raised by the CPI(M) after he lost both parents before the age of 10. Steephen’s parents – interreligious couple Bhagavathy and George – died in 1976 and 1979 respectively.

“I have a younger brother who was just 3 when my mother died. He was raised by my mother’s relatives. I lived in party offices during my school days. The party supported my education expenses, part of which I raised through banana farming. I became active in party activities through Balasangham and SFI. Later, I was given bigger responsibilities like the post of President of Kattakkada panchayat at the age of 26, development committee chairperson of Vellanad panchayat, and area committee secretary of Kattakada,” said Steephen, a law graduate who has practiced as an advocate before becoming active in politics.

Steephen said that Aruvikkara would shift towards the Left in tune with the political trend in favour of the LDF government. “People are favouring a second term for the LDF government and it will be reflected in Aruvikkara too. My focus will be on ensuring drinking water for all, better roads and educational facilities,” he said before heading for campaigning at Vithura. His campaign vehicle was parked a few metres away as the road leading to his house is too narrow for a four-wheeler.

Serving the constituency since 2015, Sabarinathan only seems to be getting more popular over the years. Just as the MLA reached the Vellanad junction as part of the campaign, people could be seen reaching out to wish him success or for a friendly chat. “I don’t have to introduce a new style for the election campaign. I’ve always been like this, eating at local eateries, engaging in conversation with the people and reaching out for all their needs,” said Sabarinathan.

Just like his father, Sabarinathan too has earned a good reputation as a member in the Legislative Assembly in a short span. “I have asked 1,261 questions in the Assembly, raised 102 dissents on the Governor’s address, and initiated discussions on a wide variety of topics including menstrual leave in the government sector and concerns about the growing depression in society, etc. That won’t win votes, but I certainly feel that the Assembly performance of MLAs should be audited,” he said.

Sabarinathan also boasts of bringing non-government CSR funds into his constituency, especially for COVID-19 management activities. He highlighted steps to upgrade the Kottoor elephant rehabilitation centre on the model of the Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka to encourage responsible tourism activities in the area and an initiative to give permanent jobs to around 100 employees at the Vithura Jersey Farm as major contributions during his last term.

BJP candidate C Sivankutty is contesting for the second time after going up against Karthikeyan in the 2011 elections, in which he garnered 7,694 votes. Though O Rajagopal raised BJP’s hopes by winning over 34,000 votes in the 2015 bye-election, the vote share dropped again in the 2016 election when actor-director Rajasenan could fetch only over 20,000 votes. Fifty-eight-year-old Sivankutty, who is BJP state secretary, however, feels that people are keen for a change.

“A lot of issues need to be addressed in the constituency, a major one being lack of a good hospital, both in the government and the private sector. Major development initiatives in the constituency are the Centre-supported 75 mld treatment plant and Jal Jeevan mission,” he said.

BSP’s M Krishnankutty is the other candidate.

As not much resentment is visible against the sitting MLA who is contesting for the third time, the LDF seems to have strategically fielded Steephen, a Nadar Christian candidate, to split the UDF’s loyal vote base in the community. Success in seven out of the total eight panchayats under the constituency during the recent local body elections has given confidence to the LDF camp. However, the UDF is confident of its strong support base that ensured them a win during the past three decades in the Assembly elections.

Jisha Surya is an independent journalist living in Kerala.

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