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Kerala: Simply politics and nothing else

By George Iype in Kozhikode
April 18, 2006 17:14 IST
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In a state where film stars will not campaign for any political party, who can be the alternative crowd-pullers? 

In fact, in Kerala, where the so-called political consciousness is supposedly high, no film star hopes to step into politics and be a crowd-puller. The reason, as Kozhikode-based shop owner Khalid Ashraf puts it, is, "We look at politicians as our leaders and film stars as entertainers. Both cannot exchange jobs in Kerala, especially during elections."

Ashraf will once again vote for the Congress-led United Democratic Front candidate Forest Minister A Sujanapal, who is currently the sitting legislator from Kozhikode-1 constituency.

"I feel Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has been the most dynamic leader to head Kerala in recent times," he points out. 

Like Ashraf, voters in the politically sensitive Kozhikode district are clear in their political choices. "I will vote for the Left party candidate here, because the Congress party is not a people's party, but a leaders' party," says Sunny Jacob, a primary school teacher in Feroke, a town adjacent to Kozhikode. So Jacob's choice this time will be A Pradeep Kumar of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

"I think CPI-M leader V S Achuthanandan is the most honest political leader in Kerala," he says. Thus, for voters across Kerala, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Opposition leader and CPI-M veteran V S Achuthanandan are the biggest crowd pullers. 

Some voters like the friendliness and know-everyone-attitude of Chandy. "He is always approachable. And he gives a solution to all the problems. That is the best thing about him," says K Virendra Kurup, owner of a tailoring shop on the outskirts of Kozhikode. 

But Kurup's wife Meenakshi loves the mannerisms of Achuthanandan. "He is a humble man. I think he will be the most corruption-free chief minister that Kerala will ever have," she observes. 

Both Chandy and Achuthanandan continue to excite their followers and admirers as electioneering gets into top gear across Kerala this week.

In the one public meeting that Chandy addressed in Kozhikode, thousands of people turned up from villages. "In the last five years," he tells the crowd, "the Congress government has brought reforms and development to Kerala that the state has not witnessed in the last 50 years."

He then charts out his achievements: The International Container Terminal at Kochi, the Smart City Project in Kochi, the various inland waterways projects across the state; the agrarian reforms and educational projects. The list goes on. 

"Look, how much your rubber sheets are fetching you," Chandy asks the crowd. "Rs 85," comes the reply from the crowd. 

Chandy is correct. In the last two years, the prices of natural rubber (Kerala is the largest rubber producing state in India) have gone up to Rs 85 per kilo, immensely benefiting lakhs of farmers across the state.

"The Congress is for farmers; you reap rich dividends if you sow in the Congress party," Chandy exhorts the crowd.  He then gets down to the crowd, meeting and shaking hands with many; despite the fact that he has difficulty walking after a fall two months ago at Davos, where he had gone for the World Economic Forum meeting. 

At the same venue, the next day, Marxist leaders have prepared for a similar mammoth meeting for Achuthanandan. The crowd is not less. Everyone loves the 83-year-old Marxist veteran. 

"Do you know how many farmers in Kerala have committed suicide in the last one year," he asks, before replying himself, "450." 

"So where is the development that the Congress is proclaiming happening? It is happening only in the pockets of the Congress leaders," he jokes, taking potshots at Chandy and other Congressmen. 

"Do you know that the biggest land sharks in Kerala are Congress leaders? They are filling up rivers and waterways to sell to non resident Indians and make money," he charges. 

Achuthanandan also takes the opportunity to ridicule the Congress allegation that he was anti-reform. "My reform policy is not to make my party rich. It is to benefit the people," he adds. 

Abdulla Kutty, a grocery shop owner who heard both Chandy and Achuthanandan speak, says both leaders are crowd pullers. "I never knew Achuthanandan had this kind of energy at the age of 83," he says. 

But who will win the elections?  "Kerala voters are politically conscious. They will make the right choices," Kutty adds.

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George Iype in Kozhikode