In separate interviews to TNM, K Muraleedharan, Kummanam Rajasekharan and V Sivankutty say why each of them should be elected.

Collage of Kummanam on the left with white beard and hair Sivankutty in the middle wearing a mustard shirt and has black beard and hair and on the right is Muraleedharan in white with a smile and his trademark mustache The background is deep yellow
news 2021 Kerala Assembly Election Saturday, March 27, 2021 - 14:40

At nine in the morning, the mandalam committee office is set in Karamana, one of the busiest areas in Thiruvananthapuram. A few meters away from the row of motor companies is the office of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M), awaiting party leader V Sivankutty. Promptly, he arrives, with ready answers for a media interview, before beginning the day’s campaign work. He is contesting in Nemom this year, a constituency he had ruled between 2011 and 2016 and lost later to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s O Rajagopal. His loss and Rajagopal’s victory created history in Kerala in 2016, the BJP getting its first assembly seat that year.

“He (Rajagopal) has done nothing these past five years. Nemom has been a big zero as far as development is concerned. In 139 of the 140 assembly constituencies of Kerala, there was good development work regardless of whether they were under the ruling front or the opposition. But not in Nemom,” says Sivankutty.

Kilometres away, in Ambalathara, where the BJP’s candidate for this year, Kummanam Rajasekharan, is campaigning, it is a different story. Kummanam, former state BJP president and former Governor of Mizoram, claims Rs 400 crore of development work has been done by the incumbent MLA Rajagopal. “There are many more projects we should continue to implement. We should also bring many projects of the Modi government here. Several could not be implemented since the state government was against it,” Kummanam alleges.

The third major candidate in the fray for the coveted Nemom seat, K Muraleedharan of the Congress party, has taken a diplomatic middle-path. He chooses not to put down Rajagopal’s work even as a direct question is posed to him. “I am not criticising anyone. I don't know about it since it is a new constituency for me. I can talk about Vattiyoorkavu, about the work done during the time I was the MLA there, and the work after that. Since I am new in Nemom, I have not clearly studied the work which has been done by my predecessors,” he tells TNM, after a party meeting at the District Congress Committee office. 


K Muraleedharan during a campaign

Muraleedharan’s response becomes significant in the political scenario he was brought to fight in Nemom. After the last Assembly election, fingers were pointed at the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) for fielding a ‘weaker’ candidate in Nemom, thereby helping the BJP to win. There were also allegations of cross-voting between the UDF and the BJP to defeat the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF). This year, therefore, it became a matter of prestige for the UDF; the leaders kept getting asked who the candidate for Nemom would be. Mullappally Ramachandran, the president of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), kept answering it would be a strong leader. And when he finally announced Muraleedharan – a four time-MP, two-time MLA and son of formidable former CM late K Karunakaran – Mullappally smiled and asked the media, “Didn’t I tell you it will be a strong candidate?”

“We are fighting for the first place. Let the others decide if they want second or third places,” Muraleedharan says, on asked about his strong rivals.

Watch: Fight for Nemom: What Kummanam, Muraleedharan and Sivankutty have to say

Kummanam however expressed no such show of ‘brotherhood’ and equally criticised both his rivals. “Only they will say they are strong. People will not say it. The people here also have an intolerance towards the LDF and the UDF because their policies are so anti-people. One candidate (Muraleedharan) has won from several places and abandoned all of it. Another created ruckus in the assembly and destroyed things there,” Kummanam says.

The ruckus he speaks about happened in 2015, when Sivankutty, then an opposition MLA, protested along with other LDF members, against UDF Finance Minister KM Mani’s budget presentation. But it apparently had no effect on the votes Sivankutty received in the 2016 election. His votes increased by more than 9,000 from 2011 to 2016. “The first time Nemom constituency was formed after delimitation, I won the election, defeating O Rajagopal. Second time, in 2016 elections, O Rajagopal won and I lost. When I won, I got 50,000 votes. When I lost, I got [nearly] 60,000 votes. [The] UDF got only 13,000 votes. So the first MLA that BJP got came through vote-business,” Sivankutty alleges.

Read: O Rajagopal and his ‘different’ stances as the BJP's first MLA in Kerala

The fight however is not between individuals but policies of the different fronts, he asserts. There may be some truth in this, as people tend to follow the ideologies they believe in. At least that’s what the bakery owner across the street of the mandalam committee office says.


V Sivankutty during a campaign

“I appreciate many of the Pinarayi government’s initiatives, like giving free ration kits and welfare pension. I, too, am a beneficiary of both these. But when it comes to voting, I’d choose the party that I have always followed. It is a question of your fundamentals, it can’t change,” says the man who is a Gulf returnee.

Sivankutty, however, continues to bank on the LDF government’s projects such as the GAIL project finishing on time, the work during the two devastating floods and COVID-19. Countering these, Muraleedharan brings up the projects that the LDF government didn’t follow up on. The Congress leader, who has been soft on the BJP, does not mince words when it comes to the CPI(M).

“In Thiruvananthapuram city, it was decided to bring light metro during the time of the [previous UDF] Oommen Chandy government. The Pinarayi government abandoned it. If light metro is brought, you can bring a solution to the traffic problems in Thiruvananthapuram. The Oommen Chandy government had decided to bring light metro to Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram. The Pinarayi government stopped both of it,” he says firmly.

Read: Why Nemom will see a strong three-way race unlike other Kerala constituencies

Both Kummanam and Muraleedharan, however, do not raise Sabarimala women’s entry when they list out the Left’s issues. Two years after the huge controversy of allowing adult women between ages 10 and 50 into Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple, and the subsequent stopping of it, the issue had once again popped up when the 2021 elections were announced.


Kummanam Rajasekharan during a campaign

Sivankutty, who had been vocal until then, brushes aside the issue. The Chief Minister has clearly answered that question, he says. “Once the Supreme Court bench examines the case and gives the verdict, it will be discussed with all the parties concerned and then a decision will be taken, the CM has already explained,” Sivankutty says.

A voter who works at a department store, Satheesh Babu, however, wonders if that will not deter women in the family from voting for the LDF. “I was earlier a supporter of the BJP but later began voting for the LDF for certain reasons. I am not however sure how the women in the family will vote,” he says.

With the Sabarimala controversy not creating a wave as it did two years ago, the three fronts are focussing on development as their major line of campaigning. Development and a corruption-free government. “The overall development of Nemom constituency. A development project that can ensure happiness and satisfaction of people,” says Kummanam about his plan for the constituency.

“To have a new, corruption-free rule in Kerala and for development to happen. It should be development that the land needs - from high-tech to regional level,” says Muraleedharan.

And Sivankutty lists the works he began during his tenure as MLA. “There were many works that were started when I was MLA there - bridges, roads, civil station, sports complex, junctions. If I get elected as an LDF candidate, all the development work that has been halted will be relaunched,” he says.  

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