For a generation that had never seen the sea, a helicopter landing and sending up clouds of dust in the air was quite amusing. The people in my village rarely went beyond the taluk headquarters in Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad district. They used to turn emotional while recollecting the rare occasions when choppers carrying then Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi landed on the makeshift helipads arranged at the St Mary’s College ground. On most occasions, the choppers failed to touch the land because of adverse weather conditions. After hovering over the college campus for a few minutes, the choppers would return either to Kozhikode or Mysore with the leaders.
On the ground, the local Congressmen would be at their emotional best to boost the morale of a huge crowd that would soon become disappointed because they could not meet their favourite leaders. They would blame the adverse weather conditions for not facilitating the much-anticipated meeting between the leader and the people. They then console the public, saying that Wayanad occupies a pride of place in the minds of the party leaders.
There are many people in the landlocked Wayanad, including tribals, peasants and other rural poor, who have never seen the sea. Very few had the opportunity in the past to see the landing of helicopters on the Sulthan Bathery college ground and that too midst a cloud of dust. And on rare occasions, the leaders descended from the choppers accompanied by Machiavellian K Karunakaran and ‘Mouni Baba’ AK Antony.
And so what happens when someone sees the ocean for the first time? That was the kind of emotion my 89-year-old grandmother felt on Sunday when she was watching on television the press conference convened by AK Antony in the faraway New Delhi. It took several minutes for her to come to terms with reality. The Gandhi family scion is descending on her rural area to become a Lok Sabha candidate.
She immediately thanked Lord Jesus Christ and offered to go to Pallikkunnu pilgrim centre in the district next month to ensure divine intervention in increasing Rahul Gandhi’s vote margin. An upbeat mood was visible outside my grandmother’s house. People were seen distributing sweets and shouting slogans welcoming the Gandhi family scion.
Wayanad villages seldom saw political heavyweights. Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechuri were the top politicians from New Delhi, who reached out to the local community occasionally, with the help of translators. From the Congress, only AK Antony and Ommen Chandy used to frequent Wayanad. The national leaders of Congress never visited Wayanad.
But Wayanad always remained, by and large, a Congress citadel. About 50.02% of the total population are minority communities. Among them, 21.34% are Christians and 28.68% are Muslims, while the Hindus constitute 49.48%. The minorities always preferred Congress.
It was in 2009 that the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency was born. Till then, Sulthan Bathery and Kalpetta assembly constituencies were part of Kozhikode Lok Sabha constituency. North Wayanad or Mananthavady belonged to Kannur Lok Sabha constituency. The new Lok Sabha constituency looked almost like a Congress fort, where no Communist can sneak into, even accidentally.
Three Assembly constituencies of the Malappuram district, where Congress ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has large-scale influence, were added to the constituency. Among them, Eranad continues to remain a citadel of the IUML while Nilambur and Wandoor have the largest congregation of minorities.
Thiruvambady, the lone assembly constituency from Kozhikode district that was attached to the Wayanad Lok Sabha Constituency, is also a Mulsim League bastion. Syrian Christians also enjoy considerable clout here.
With 30% forest cover, Wayanad also has about 17% tribal voters. None of these segments have traditional supporters of the Left. The pepper, coffee and ginger cultivators are now more at the mercy of climate change. After all, it is a constituency with just 3.86% of urban voters.
However, things have started changing in recent years. Congress leader MI Shanavas won for the first time from the Wayanad constituency with a thumping majority of 1,53,439 votes in 2009. His majority reduced to 20,870 during the second term in 2014.
He had obtained the nickname Desadana Pakshi (Migratory Bird) because of his inability to visit the constituency often after getting elected. In the last assembly election, Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Thiruvambady elected Left front candidates. Nilambur elected a Left independent.
Rahul Gandhi can reignite the Congress possibilities in Wayanad. He can gain a huge number of votes. But in the Nilgiri constituency of Tamil Nadu, which shares the border with Wayanad, the Congress and Left are united in ensuring the victory of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) candidate.
KA Shaji is a south Indian journalist who regularly reports from the backward parts of the region and works in the areas of environmental protection, social advocacy and grassroots level development. Views expressed are the author's own.