The Alappuzha seat, won eight times by the UDF and four by the LDF, is witnessing a two-cornered fight this time as well.

Shanimol Usman, AM Ariff, KS Radhakrishnan / Courtesy: Facebook.com
news Lok Sabha 2019 Friday, April 19, 2019 - 17:42

Perhaps it is the backwaters, or the food, or else the reputation it comes with, but Alappuzha has always managed to be a favourite cosy spot for travellers. Even when the 2018 floods came to really whip it hard on the chest, the Venice of the East - as Britishman Lord Curzon once called it - resurfaced, and the foreign visitors could no longer stay away.

The people of Alappuzha will remember the floods when they line up to vote on April 23. Not all of Alappuzha comes under the Alappuzha Lok Sabha constituency, which is one of the 20 in the state. Kuttanad, for instance, which was one of the worst affected in the flood, comes under the Mavelikkara constituency. And Karunagappally, which is in Kollam district, comes under Alappuzha. Aroor, Cherthala, Alappuzha, Ambalappuzha, Haripad and Kayamkulam form the other six assembly segments that come under the constituency.

The candidates this time are – Shanimol Usman for the UDF, AM Arif for LDF and Dr KS Radhakrishnan for NDA. The seat, won eight times by the UDF and four by the LDF, is likely to witness a two-cornered fight this time as well.

 Alappuzha Lok Sabha constituency

YearParty
1962CPI
1977Congress
1980CPI (M)
1984Congress
1989Congress
1991CPI (M)
1996Congress
1998Congress
1999Congress
2004CPI (M)
2009Congress
2014Congress

 

Will Alappuzha accept new Cong face?

Alappuzha has mostly been Congress’s fort. The constituency has traditional Congress supporters, who would like to see them come back to power. “Politically, we have been voting for the UDF for years. I am happy with our current MP KC Venugopal. We wanted him to contest again this time, but Shanimol is equally acceptable,” says Annie, a voter from Haripad.

But the question is, will all such Congress supporters accept a new candidate when the predecessor – despite the allegations of sexual assault he faced in the solar scam case – had managed to retain his seat in the last election? 

For the last two general elections, the people of Alappuzha voted the UDF to power – KC Venugopal of the Indian National Congress (INC) won both times. This time, however, he is not standing for the elections, citing organisational responsibilities. Instead, the UDF has chosen Shanimol Usman – the first woman from the district to become the secretary of All India Congress Committee.

During the 2014 elections, there were speculations that Venugopal, whose name had cropped up in the solar scam case, might lose. There were also rumours that Shanimol, who had reportedly wanted to contest from Alappuzha, was not actively campaigning. There were words tossed back and forth then, between then KPCC president VM Sudheeran and Shanimol. KC Venugopal finally won, but with a lesser victory margin than in 2009.

In 2014, KC Venugopal beat CPI (M)'s CB Chandrababu by 19,407 votes. In 2009, he won by a larger margin of 57,635 votes, defeating Dr KS Manoj of CPI (M).

Five years have passed and today, you see Shanimol wasting no time in telling people about the achievements made by Venugopal. She is, in fact, running briskly for her campaigning, reminding one of NDA’s candidate from Ernakulam, Alphonse Kannanthanam’s style of sprinting while appealing for votes.

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But there is another section of voters who seem to be a little sceptical over the UDF’s performance so far. “What achievements,” asks Adarsh, a voter from the constituency.

“For the last 10 years, Alappuzha has been aching for development. The slow pace of development of the Alappuzha bypass is a cause for concern for those taking the route through Alappuzha. The promises have long vanished and the construction is moving at a slow pace. The tourism sector in Alappuzha, too, has not grown much in the last decade. The coir sector of Alappuzha has been under severe stress. The industry is facing a cash crunch. The constant sea erosion along the coastal belts every rainy season is another important problem that needs to be fixed. I would vote for the party that would readily take up the above issues,” elucidates Adarsh.

Will CPI (M) get a foot in the door?

Alappuzha is home to one of the most famous uprisings by the Communists - the Punnapra Vayalar uprising of 1946. In this communist uprising against the Diwan of Travancore, CP Ramaswami Iyer, more than one thousand communists were reportedly killed.

It is the land that produced leaders such as former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and KR Gowriamma – a minister in the first Communist government of the state.

And yet, after the first victory by PK Vasudevan Nair of the Communist Party of India (this was before the party split in 1964), the next election was won by VM Sudheeran of the Congress. The CPI(M), in the subsequent years, won only three more times – Susheela Gopalan in 1980, TJ Anjalose in 1991 and KS Manoj in 2004.

But the CPI (M)-led LDF would have hope this time, for, in the 2016 Assembly elections, the party had won six out of the seven assembly seats under Alappuzha – only Haripad was lost to Ramesh Chennithala, the Opposition Leader.

This time, LDF has decided to field Arif, who won the 2016 assembly elections from Aroor by a comfortable margin of 38,519 votes, beating UDF’s CR Jayaprakash.

Arif – one of the six MLAs that LDF is fielding this time – has in the past, defeated veteran politician KR Gouriamma, who had contested for the UDF, to win the assembly seat in the 2006 elections. He won in 2011, too, which was his third term.

He can depend on the people of his assembly to vote for him this time, but there is no predicting how the rest of the constituency would vote – the scales of the balance show no obvious leaning.

Floods, Sabarimala: The other factors

Three years since the 2016 Assembly elections and the voters have witnessed newer incidents, such as floods and Sabarimala women’s entry, that could significantly influence them this General Election.

And among these factors is the recent flood and the way the government handled it. The district administration was in full swing, under Collector Suhas and Sub-Collector Krishna Teja, putting together an ‘I am for Alleppey’ initiative to rebuild the region, which contributes a good percentage to the state’s tourism industry. But there are also people who complain that they haven’t received the relief packages as promised.

Another very obvious factor would be, of course, Sabarimala and the court verdict that lifted the ban on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50. Quite a large number of people took to streets, protesting women’s entry. Here is where the BJP – that supported those fighting women’s entry - would hope to score a little in Alappuzha.

KS Radhakrishnan, former Kerala Public Service Commission chairman, had only recently joined BJP, but he would certainly hope to gain traction with Sabarimala, without, of course, mentioning the name (as directed by the Election Commission).

But then Alappuzha’s Hindu population has a high percentage of Ezhavas – 55.3 per cent according to the 2011 census, and Vellapally Natesan, General Secretary of the Ezhava community organisation SNDP (Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam), has been speaking for the entry of women in Sabarimala.

This might, therefore, influence more votes for the LDF, which had supported women’s entry, while the UDF and the BJP-led NDA stood against it.

NDA’s Wayanad candidate Thushar Vellappally is also the vice president of SNDP. His party BDJS is the political wing of SNDP. During the Sabarimala, while Thushar opposed women’s entry, his father Vellapally Natesan supported the SC verdict.

The fight, therefore, is likely to be shouldered by the UDF’s woman candidate and a three-time MLA that LDF trusts.