For decades together, Ernakulam, a Lok Sabha constituency in the central part of Kerala, has been a Congress bastion. Barring the occasional Left-backed independents being voted to power, the constituency has only ever seen Congress MPs and one CPI(M) MP, VV Menon, who was voted to power in 1967.
However, with the 2019 elections, things have changed. The CPI(M) has decided that it will not go down without a fight. For one, the party has done something unusual – fielding one of it's most popular and dynamic faces, P Rajeev, a former Rajya Sabha MP with a stellar record and also the party’s former Ernakulam district secretary to contest from Ernakulam. Despite the UDF edge in the constituency, Rajeev sees considerable support, in different parts of Ernakulam.
So, will the CPI(M) shatter the Congress bastion? Seems like the party is up for a tough fight with the Congress fielding Hibi Eden, Ernakulam MLA and son of two-time Congress MP George Eden. As the MLA of Ernakulam assembly constituency, 35-year old Eden is a well-known face in the area and he too enjoys massive support. His work especially post floods has earned him admirers in the region and moreover, the Congress is stressing on the fact that he is probably one of the youngest candidates in the fray in Kerala.
Candidates, manifestos and Ernakulam’s dynamic voters
The Lok Sabha constituency of Ernakulam comprises of 6 Assembly constituencies, namely Vypeen, Paravur, Tripunithura, Thrikkakara, Kalamassery, Kochi and Ernakulam. When it comes to local body elections in areas such as Thripunithura and Kochi, there is a clear slant to the Left, while areas such as Ernakulam town and Vypeen are congress bastions.
“Voting pattern in Kerala is focused on the party and seldom based on candidates. Strong and popular candidates sway votes only about 3-5 percent and this is a trend we see across Kerala,” Harish Vasudevan, a High Court lawyer from Ernakulam told TNM.
Voters in this constituency focus on different criteria for parliament, assembly and panchayat elections - a reason for the district's dynamic voting pattern, Harish believes.
Currently, several analysts believe that the anti-Modi wave is strong among voters and this will show in their voting pattern. Congress candidate Hibi Eden has focused on this factor in his campaigns, highlighting that there was a need to protect ‘democracy’ and secularism in the country.
“Right now it is very crucial to maintain the secular fabric of the country and this is why it is important to explain to voters why they must vote for the UDF,” Hibi Eden told TNM in an exclusive interview.
Hibi Eden, according to Harish, enjoys the support of the minority groups in the constituency who have traditionally backed the UDF.
“Hibi has been able to retain a ‘boy next door’ image in Ernakulam town. He is extremely popular here and very active in all activities in the town. Besides this, caste voting is very common in Ernakulam with the Latin Catholic community having voted KV Thomas and Hibi’s father George Eden to power for several terms. Hibi too enjoys their support,” Harish added.
Apart from these advantages, Eden has contributed to Ernakulam in his capacity as MLA. Following the August 2018 floods, Eden took up a village in Cheranalloor and built 50 houses for victims. He also has also has other developmental works across Ernakulam town to his credit.
While LDF candidate Rajeev has largely worked within the ranks of the party in Ernakulam, he is very popular in assembly constituencies such as Thripunithara and Kochi.
During his term as Rajya Sabha member, Rajeev had mobilised Rs 14 crore to install a linear accelerator radiation machine at the Ernakulam General Hospital. As the funds exceeded each MP’s limit, Rajeev had convinced 5 other MPs to contribute to the project. He also set up a free dialysis centre in Aluva, which remains one of the largest public sector dialysis centre in India with 26 units.
While both UDF and LDF have fielded equally strong candidates, NDA’s Alphons Kannanthanam who is the Union Minister of State for Tourism, is currently battling the ‘outsider’ tag in the constituency, according to experts. Kannanthanam, many believe, lacks the seriousness a candidate requires. For instance, he had gone to the wrong constituency and asked for votes and this became a big joke among voters.
Besides this, the NDA’s manifesto for Ernakulam lacks in nuance when compared to the UDF and LDF manifestos which, analysts believe, is better researched and more specific to the constituency.
Speaking TNM, Kannanthanam promised to focus on job creation in Kochi if voted to power.
"I am the Tourism minister for the State and in Kerala, the Kochi is the hub of tourism in Kerala. Therefore, it is my pleasure to stand from this constituency,” he told TNM
Issues this election
Waste management is a crucial issue among voters in Ernakulam. With the Brahmapuram Waste Management plant having caught fire several times in the past few months, waste collection in the constituency had come to a standstill for days. The UDF, which has been heading the Kochi Corporation for the last two terms, has drawn flak for its inability to find a permanent solution to the problem.
In the coastal areas of Kochi which were badly affected by Cyclone Ockhi, the demand for a proper sea wall by the residents has largely been ignored and the residents have condemned all political parties for the continued apathy.
In Puthuvype area of Ernakulam, residents have been opposing the construction of the LPG terminal by the Indian Oil Corporation – a growing protest which is grabbing the attention of the state. So far, Congress has been the only party to take a pro-people stance. This might cost the CPI(M) a few votes in the area.