In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Kerala’s Kollam constituency saw an intense battle. NK Premachandran, the most popular and the lone powerful leader among his contemporaries from the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), took on CPI(M) ideologue MA Baby.
Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M), Baby had everything in his favour – the acceptability to match Premachandran’s popularity, a clean and intellectual image, the reforms he had carried out when he was education minister from 2006 to 2011, and his local connections. Baby was the sitting MLA of Kundara at that time. A large overwhelming crowd had gathered when CPI(M) stalwart VS Achuthanandan inaugurated Baby’s election convention.
But Baby was humbled by Premachandran. Premachandran secured 4,08,528 votes, 46.47% of the total votes polled, while Baby got 3,70,879 votes, which was 42.19% of votes cast.
The reason many attribute to the debacle is then party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan’s ‘paranari’ (scoundrel) usage on Premachandran, which had created ripples even in other parts of the state and turned the public feeling in favour of the latter.
RSP, a long-time ally of the CPI(M) in the Left Democratic Front (LDF), had left the coalition on the eve of the 2014 elections after being denied a seat. Kollam was the only Lok Sabha seat the RSP contested from, for it is the only district where the party exists.
This time also the RSP has fielded Premachandran. But Pinarayi, now the chief minister of the state, repeated the same usage in an election campaign in Kollam this time too, saying there should be truthfulness in politics.
NK Premachandran Facebook Page
KN Balagopal, a one-time Rajya Sabha member and former district secretary of the CPI(M), is pitted against Premachandran this time. Like Premachandran, Balagopal is familiar with the pulse of the constituency. He also has a clean image and wholehearted acceptance among party workers in Kollam. In the 2016 Assembly elections, the LDF secured more than 1,70,000 votes over the UDF overall in Kollam. And the man who spearheaded the Left campaign was KN Balagopal.
The bypass inauguration and ‘Sanghi’ label for Premachandran
The Kollam bypass, a major development the district witnessed in the last two decades, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January. This happened at a time when the state had decided that the inauguration would be done by the chief minister. The Left blamed Premachandran for ruining their plans and calling Modi.
CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan even accused Premachandran of ‘being close’ to the BJP. The ‘Sanghi’ tag irked the latter and he reacted saying that it was Pinarayi Vijayan who is a Sanghi for postponing the Kochi Metro Rail inauguration thrice for the convenience of Modi.
KV Sabu of the BJP is the NDA candidate. The BJP got 6.67% of the votes in 2014.
The outsiders who won in Kollam
Kollam has traditionally been a Left bastion. In the 16 elections held so far, the Congress won five times.
Barring P Rajendran of the CPI(M) (who was in office from 1999 to 2009), all other MPs from Kollam have been from other districts.
N Sreekantan Nair, the tallest leader of the RSP who was instrumental in the party flourishing in Kollam, won from the district five times. He was from the neighbouring Alappuzha
S Krishnakumar of the Congress, a former IAS officer and a native of Thiruvananthapuram, won three times.
The legacy of Sreekantan Nair was carried forward by Premachandran, winning three times – in 1996 and 1998 as well apart from 2014. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2000. He was elected to the Assembly in 2006 from Chavara and held the water resources portfolio.
Though the CPI(M) had taken the seat from the RSP in 1999, the RSP backed its ally in the two consecutive elections in which the CPI(M) Rajendran candidate won.
Strengths and community votes
Both Premachandran and Balagopal are known for their outstanding performance as parliamentarians. Both are known orators. The initiative in finishing the bypass after over four decades, the second entrance of the Kollam railway station which was a long pending demand of locals, and similar developmental works will act in favour of Premachandran. The party unit with the strong backing of the CPI, the second largest ally of the LDF, are advantages for Balagopal.
Kollam is one of the constituencies where the young women’s entry into Sabarimala – and the state government’s move to implement the Supreme Court verdict – could see an impact. Since BJP’s Sabu is not a familiar name in the constituency at all, anti-Left votes could turn in favour of Premachandran. Both Premachandran and Balagopal are from the dominant Nair community, an advantage in a constituency where community could be decisive in the poll result.
However, Balagopal can defend it for he is the brother of Kalanjoor Madhu, who is close to the Nair Service Society chief N Sukumaran Nair. But the comradeship won’t necessarily ensure Nair votes for Balagopal.
KN Balagopal Facebook Page
Kollam is also predominantly a land of cashew nut factory workers and fishermen who are unlikely to be influenced by the Sabarimala issue.
“Whatever Premachandran had done for labourers like me, now he has become distanced from us,” says Ammini, a daily wage labourer from Thankassery.
“True, there could be an anti-incumbency feeling which is normal. And it is also true that in most of the Assembly constituencies, barring Kollam where the Left MLA and actor Mukesh has failed to perform as per people’s expectations, the Left is stronger. But the final outcome might be in favour of Premachandran, because the UDF can get the BJP votes and also due to the general feeling in favour of the UDF during LS polls,” says a local activist who did not want to be named.
The Assembly constituencies that fall under Kollam LS constituency are Punalur, Chathannoor, Kundara, Kollam, Eravipuram, Chavara and Chadayamangalam.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, the CPI(M) won three seats while the CPI won the rest. Chavara and Eravipuram are considered strongholds of the RSP. But the party failed to win even a single seat in 2016. Hence Premachandran’s victory or failure in this constituency is crucial for the RSP’s future as well.