In 2019, when the Pala constituency in Kerala’s Kottayam district went to polls in the bye-election, Mani C Kappen was contesting on an LDF ticket. It was the fourth time he was contesting on the LDF ticket. The previous three times, he contested against KM Mani, the popular leader from Pala constituency who had been the elected representative from Pala for 54 years, from 1965 until his death in 2019. Each time Kappen contested, he managed to reduce the margin by which KM Mani won the election. The margin the first time he contested against the heavyweight leader was 25,000 votes and by the third time, Kappen managed to reduce the margin to around 4,700 votes in the last election.
KM Mani’s demise gave Kappen an opportunity to rise to power in Pala. In the subsequent bye-election in 2019, Kappen was elected with a margin of around 3,000 votes. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had fielded Jose Tom Pulikkunnel, a close aide of KM Mani for over 25 years.
Jose K Mani, the son of KM Mani, who was a Rajya Sabha member from the UDF, decided to give up his position to contest the Assembly elections. Interestingly, in a turn of events, the LDF decided to dump Kappen and offered Jose K Mani the ticket from the Pala constituency. This did not go down well with Kappen. He decided to switch over to the UDF and is this time contesting on a UDF ticket from Pala.
After he was expelled from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) when he severed ties with LDF, Mani C Kappen floated his own party under the UDF, the National Congress Kerala (NCK), in February.
Kappen said, “There was no objection from anybody when I switched over to the UDF side because people feel that what has been done to me is too bad. A seat that I have won after a long period of time was taken from me and was given to those who lost the election. This is totally unfair,” Kappen said about the change in the alliance.
When TNM asked Jose K Mani why he decided to join hands with the LDF, despite a sour past and a long-standing feud that his father shared with the LDF, he said, “The situation was such that we were asked to go out of the UDF without any reason. We had gone for the local body elections with the LDF and we saw it was a historic win for the LDF.”
Several critics called both the Manis opportunistic leaders for changing alliances. Reacting to this, Mani C Kappen said, “I have changed my party only once, that too, they forced me to change. I was an MLA for 16 months. They wanted to give my seat to those who lost the election. KM Mani was in the LDF. He then went to UDF. I don’t have that history. Only once have I changed my party.”
Mani C Kappen said he was confident of being voted back to power in the upcoming election. “I have proven my capacity and capability to the people of Pala and I have worked for the constituency. As an MLA, I have brought development worth Rs 462 crores and hence I am pretty damn confident of being voted back to power in Pala,” said the NCK chief.
Highlighting his plans for Pala, Mani C Kappen said, “I plan to make Pala the number one tourist hub in Kerala. The high ranges in Pala are beautiful and are perfect for tourism. An 11-kilometre ropeway, a studio that can accommodate editing will encourage the film industry to shoot their movies here and also finish the editing before leaving.”
While Kappen plans to boost tourism, Jose K Mani says his main attention would be on education. “Kottayam is called the land of letters and the most literate constituency in Kerala, and probably also in India, is Pala. I will be giving more interest on education and also on roads, water, electricity and so on.”
Peter, a septuagenarian local in Pala, felt that Jose K Mani wouldn’t fare as well as Kappen. “Mani C Kappen has done a good job so far and seems like he will make it back once again”, said Peter.
A woman who runs a bakery in Pala told TNM, “Jose K Mani can never be compared to his father. KM Mani was very helpful to the people of Pala and was always approachable. Kappen has been working hard for Pala.”
An auto rickshaw driver, who was parked at the Pala auto stand, felt Jose K Mani, like his father, would effortlessly be voted to power in Pala.
While people spoke in favour of their choice of candidate, a lot of people questioned how Jose K Mani could think about going back to a party that had misbehaved with his father KM Mani when he was the Finance Minister of the state.
Whether the people of Pala are satisfied with the works carried out by Kappen, or will they give Jose K Mani a chance to defend his father’s legacy is now what remains to be seen.