Babu declares that the fight for Ponnani this election will be tough. A construction supervisor from Panickerpadi in the constituency in Malappuram district, he feels this time it won’t be a cakewalk for Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) veteran ET Mohammed Basheer.
Hassan, his friend, is listening as Babu speaks. As their conservation progresses in the courtyard of a floor mill at Panickerpadi, Unni and Nanda Kumar – the men who run the floor mill – join. Soon it becomes a heated debate. “What do ordinary men get whoever is in power? I need to walk to the Panchayat office multiple times to get one paper cleared,” Nanda Kumar says.
“What else do the people want when the government is eager to bring in renaissance,” Unni says sarcastically, referring to the Renaissance moves of the current Left government. This irks Babu who categorically says that CM Pinarayi Vijayan is a strong administrator.
From left: Nanda Kumar, Unni and Babu
But the four of them are united in their view that the BJP-led rule at the Centre should change.
This is the general feeling one senses while travelling around the constituency, where the BJP has little influence.
Voters here have to say a lot about national issues. “The rule in the Centre should change, there is no doubt in that,” says Abdu Rahiman, a shop owner at Tirur.
“How much we struggled when there was no money in the ATMs (referring to demonisation). Most of the days we had to wait on the roads for hours with our kids to take out money, we don’t want that to happen ever again,” says Thoufeela, a homemaker from Kattilangadi.
The Left is backing the sitting MLA of Nilambur, PV Anwar, as its candidate. Anwar’s image has been tainted over allegations about the construction of a water theme park he owns at Kakkadampoyil.
“As an MLA, his performance is fairly good, but we have been hearing many allegations against him and this has been showing him in bad light,” says Fauziya, a homemaker.
Anwar is a businessman as well, one of the richest legislators in the Assembly. The Left backed him in the 2016 Assembly elections and this time too he is in the fray as a Left independent. Though many argue that Anwar is one of finest candidates and the best to take on ET, as Mohammed Basheer is known in party circles, some believe his tainted image is a drawback.
Ponnani is one of the two seats from which the IUML is contesting the elections, the other seat being Malappuram. The constituency is a Muslim-dominated one.
IUML’s decreasing vote share
IUML is the second largest party in the UDF after the Congress. What is ringing alarm bells for the party is its diminishing vote share in the last few elections.
The ‘reverse’ trend in the party’s traditional turf began in 2009. The party won with a margin of 82,684 votes in the 2009 elections which reduced to 25,410 in 2014. ET had won the seat for the IUML in both the elections.
In the 2016 Assembly elections also, the UDF margin in the constituency was down to 1,404.
“This the LDF believes is a visible sign of the IUML losing its grip on Ponnani. By fielding Anwar, they have handpicked someone who is influential, who has money power. He can also get a share of the Congress votes. There is bickering between the Congress and the Muslim League in some parts here. This can be turned in favour of the Left,” says a voter who didn’t want to be named.
Fifty-one-year old Anwar was working with the Congress before he began contesting with the Left’s backing. This could also win some Congress votes for him.
Mohammed Basheer (73) is also the National Secretary of the IUML. He had objected to the criminalisation of triple talaq and to reservation for the economically weaker sections of the dominant castes – both of which made him more acceptable in the constituency.
Anwar’s strength lies in how he can split the UDF votes, which is what made it possible for him to win in the Assembly elections. He grabbed 41.47% of the votes in the 2011 Assembly elections, though he contested as an independent candidate in Eranad constituency in Malappuram. This ability to penetrate the vote share of the IUML has made him the choice of the Left to take on Mohammed Basheer in IUML’s fortress.
The LDF and the UDF are approaching voters as the political force that can protect the interests of the minorities.
Both the fronts are seeking votes to pull down the BJP government at the Centre. The candidature of Congress President Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad, some believe, could also impact the poll results in Ponnani. The UDF views it as something that will have a huge effect in the entire state, especially in the north under which Ponnani also falls.
VT Rema, state committee member of the BJP, is the NDA’s candidate. The other candidates in the fray are KC Nazeer of the Socialist Democratic Party and Punthura Siraj of the People’s Democratic Party.
The Assembly constituencies in Ponnani are Thirroorangadi, Thanur, Tirur, Kottaykkal, Thavanur, Ponnani and Thrithala.