Ground Report: Will LDF’s Jaick breach the great wall of Chandy in Puthuppally?

Jaick C Thomas, who had contested against Oommen Chandy in 2016, had lost by around 27,000 votes.
LDF's Jaick C Thomas and Congress's Oommen Chandy, candidates in the Puthupally constituency in Kerala
LDF's Jaick C Thomas and Congress's Oommen Chandy, candidates in the Puthupally constituency in Kerala
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In Kerala’s Puthupally, a David vs Goliath contest is unfolding as LDF’s Jaick C Thomas is once again taking on former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, a 11-time winner from the constituency. In 2016, when Jaick C Thomas was given the LDF ticket to contest against Oommen Chandy in Puthuppally, he was all of 26 years old. Five years later, the 31-year-old is again gearing up to lock horns with 77-year-old Oommen Chandy, who is known to be the strongman of the Congress and is confident of retaining his home turf this election too.

Interestingly, in the 2016 Assembly election, despite being a debutant, Jaick had managed to garner 44,505 votes, which was 33.2% of the total vote share. Oommen Chandy, who was contesting for the 11th time from Puthuppally that year, had polled 71,597 votes, which constituted a vote share of 53.42%. 

On one hand, Jaick hopes that LDF’s policies may swing the votes in his favour this time. On the other hand, Oommen Chandy’s popularity is quite apparent among the people in Puthuppally constituency in Kottayam district. 

The people have been voting Oommen Chandy to power for more than five decades now. The Congress leader continues to enjoy the love and support from the people. Recently, when there were speculations about him being fielded from Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, Chandy’s supporters gheraoed his vehicle and expressed their displeasure to the leader. It was clear that they refused to let go of the leader from his bastion.

However, Oommen Chandy contesting from Puthuppally for the 12th time has not stopped the 77-year-old from attending public meetings in the run-up to the Assembly elections. “I’m very attached to Puthuppally and its people, they also reciprocate the same feeling,” he said. 

TNM caught up with him after a meeting where he addressed party workers in Manarcad.

‘Election not a fight between people but policies’

It is around 10 pm and Jaick’s day has not come to end as yet. In a makeshift party office set up at a ground near his house, Jaick is addressing several youngsters. In an animated conversation, Jaick is having an internal party meeting. Once he wrapped up the meeting, Jaick spoke to TNM. 

Jaick, who is gearing up for another battle, feels the works accomplished by the LDF will help him break the Oommen Chandy spell in Puthuppally. 

When asked how it feels contesting against a heavyweight like Chandy, Jaick said, “An election is not a fight between people. It is a fight between policies. People of Kerala are totally satisfied with the LDF government. Surveys are also indicating a victory for the LDF government.”

What Puthuppally’s people think about Chandy

Saji, an auto driver in Puthuppally who is also an LDF supporter, feels Jaick has been very helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said, “Apart from what the government did for the people, Jaick, in his own capacity, bought supplies and distributed them to the people. He has been helpful to the people. Oommen Chandy needs to make way for youngsters. He has been very approachable to the people of Puthuppally. However, there is hardly any development in the constituency.”

Thomas Gigi, a native of Puthuppally, hails from a family that has been a strong supporter of Oommen Chandy for decades now. He feels Oommen Chandy’s accessibility is one of his main attractions. “Anyone one can meet him and tell him their problems and he will make sincere efforts to find a solution. He is a hardworking and committed leader. His day starts as early as 5 am and only ends after 11 pm,” said Gigi.

When asked about the development of Puthuppally and whether Chandy could have done more for his constituency in the last five decades, Thomas said, “He isn’t a leader of a regional party to campaign by saying he will bring resources and funds to his constituency like what is happening in Pala, Malappuram or other districts. He behaves like a true leader and doesn’t wish to bring undue benefits to his constituency and we respect him for that.”

Orthodox-Jacobite church issue a hurdle for Chandy?

Joby Mani, a businessman and a native of Puthuppally, said that winning Puthuppally and retaining the seat is no big challenge for Oommen Chandy. However, could Chandy be at a disadvantage due to the ongoing feud between the Orthodox Church and the Jacobite Church?

Oommen Chandy is from the Orthodox denomination and Jaick C Thomas hails from the Jacobite denomination. “Panchayats like Manarcad and Akalakunnam, which come under Puthuppally constituency, have a sizeable portion of members from the Jacobite denomination. However, there are other panchayats like Puthupally, Meenadam and Pampadi, which will help even out this challenge. It is also to be noted that Oommen Chandy is capable of reaching out to both the communities,” said Mani.

Will Puthuppally’s choice remain Chandy?

Mani added that despite Oommen Chandy’s name cropping up in the solar scam case during the last election, he still won from Puthuppally.

Oommen Chandy had been under the scanner after three staff members in his office were accused of having links with Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan, the main accused in the solar scam. They had allegedly duped investors by convincing them to invest in a solar company. They allegedly did so by flaunting their connections in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO). However, Mani said that “the people of Puthuppally refuse to believe and accept that their leader would be involved in any such controversy.”

“If the allegations of being involved in the solar scam couldn’t have an impact on Oommen Chandy during the last election, there is nothing big enough to bring down the leader. Despite those allegations, even the opposition did not protest or agitate in Puthuppally. That is the kind of support and image he has built over the decades,” he added.

While the on-ground pulse in the constituency seems to be favouring Chandy, it remains to be seen if Jaick’s aspirations of breaching the former’s stronghold, based on the LDF’s policies, will indeed come to fruition in Puthuppally.

Watch this interview of Oommen Chandy:

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