T M Thomas Isaac: Standing out in a crowd of politicians
For all the talk of Kerala’s high literacy, neither the state’s political parties nor its voters have shown any particular fancy for candidates with distinctly high academic qualifications. The bearded economist with a Marxian beard, T. M. Thomas Isaac has been an exception, winning from Mararikulam and Alappuzha constituencies multiple times. The two-time finance minister of Kerala with a PhD from the Centre for Development Studies in Kerala has often seemed an odd-ball in his party, the Communist Party of India Marxist, in which his colleagues are known for no-holds-barred aggression unlike Isaac who often draws parallels to his fiscal plans for the state with the writings of famous literary icons of the state.
This poll season is very different for Isaac, as it is for many CPM veterans because he isn’t contesting, in line with the party’s new-found policy to field new faces. So the man who talks of coir even if he is jolted from sleep, will braid new strategies for the party from the electoral ringside.
In recent times, he has been facing the heat over the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund, or KIIFB, for which he is being hauled over the coals for alleged failure in taking federal sanctions before raising masala bonds from abroad. In typical fashion, Isaac is using economic principles like a coir rope to strangulate his political opponents – saying that without KIIFB funds, the cash-strapped state’s development will come to a standstill, much like how the houseboats in his native Alappuzha district lie anchored in the COVID-19 impact.
G Sudhakaran: An outspoken minister who gets things done
Kerala’s Communist Party of India Marxist is loaded with leaders who can be called stormy petrels, including P Jayarajan, E P Jayarajan and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself. But even they fade away before G Sudhakaran, the veritable storm itself. Sudhakaran never minces words, and this time when he was denied a seat to contest, in line with the CPM policy to give emphasis to new faces, his supporters also did not mince words about what they thought about the decision.
“If G Sudhakaran is kept out, it will lead to losing the constituency. Does the party need continuity in rule? Is SDPI man Salam the replacement for G Sudhakaran? What assurance without G?” they demanded to know through posters that sprung in Alappuzha district.
Sudhakaran is bluntly outspoken, and most of his fulminations have been on the subject of roads and bridges, given his portfolio of public works in the outgoing Pinarayi Vijayan ministry. For all his rants, public works in Kerala are of questionable quality, and long delayed. In his own native Alappuzha district a flyover that was in the making for 45 years got completed only this year.
When he is not delivering a scathing sermon to someone, Sudhakaran sometimes takes time off to pen some lines, apparently wanting to prove how he can construct lyrical lines just as he can oversee road and bridge projects. But the part-time poet met his match recently when he took on Twenty20 founder-leader Sabu M Jacob, alleging that Jacob was constructing “my roads” without permission. To that, Jacob retorted, “I can give back those roads, but please give me some time – to hand it over in the manner they were, complete with potholes”. Sometimes, part-time poets do get poetic justice.
Mullappally Ramachandran: Walking a tightrope
In the political merry-go-round that has been a norm in Kerala for over four decades, the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front come to power alternately, assuring each front of power every five years.
What is feared by the UDF is that the merry-go-round may not play out that way this time as different surveys point to a repeat of the LDF government. That should give the shivers to Mullappally Ramachandran, the bespectacled, moustachioed president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee.
He himself has opted out of the poll fray, but that only adds to the expectations of him leading the Congress to victory. In 2016, the Congress-led UDF could only muster 47 seats to LDF’s 91 and this time internal bickering, heartburns over candidate selection and the diminishing clout of Congress on a national scale are all adding to the enormity of Ramachandran’s task.
The exit of a senior leader like P C Chacko from the party to join the Nationalist Congress Party is the latest proof of the mood in the Congress ranks in Kerala. And Ramachandran also has to walk a tight rope in dealing with the chief ministerial ambitions of Ramesh Chennithala and Oommen Chandy, even though it will be an issue only if the UDF wins.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has already spent many days in Kerala, swimming in the sea with fishermen, chatting up crowds thronging his campaign vehicle and addressing campaign meetings. But Ramachandran may still be left with an eerie feeling that this time Keralites may just decide to change their five-year itch for change.
V Muraleedharan: The minister who won't be running this time
Despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s bull run across India, particularly since 2014, there has been one fortress that has remained near-impregnable to the party, namely Kerala. To break that frustrating political standing of the party in Kerala is the brief of 63-year-old V Muraleedharan, a Rajya Sabha MP and the federal minister of state for external affairs.
The BJP presently has one seat in Kerala’s 140-strong assembly, namely the Nemom constituency. The party’s candidate at Nemom this time, Kummanam Rajasekharan likes to call it ‘Kerala’s Gujarat’, but the fact is that it is not an easy task for the BJP to retain even that one seat.
However, as Muraleedharan emerges a key campaigner for the BJP in Kerala, there are several positives for him to bank on, like technocrat E Sreedharan’s decision to join the party and contest from Palakkad, and the possibility of winning a few constituencies where the BJP had put up impressive shows in 2016 but had not won.
The BJP in Kerala has long been a house divided, known for internal bickering, which means extra effort for campaigners like Muraleedharan to lift the party’s fortunes from the present status as a single-seat outfit.
One would expect Muraleedharan to be careful with words, given his portfolio of external affairs, but his gaffes have been the delight of social media trollers. His defence of the federal government’s frequent raising of fuel prices by arguing that “the rise in domestic fuel price has not been as much as the fall in international crude price” has been among the most widely circulated trolls among Keralites.
But even then, Muraleedharan and the BJP are hoping to have more seats in Kerala, where the BJP has bloomed in just one seat. One more seat would be a 100 per cent growth for the party.
P Jayarajan: An omission loaded with meanings
If horses are for courses, few fit the bill for the political rough-and-tumble in Kerala’s Malabar region better than Communist Party of India Marxist leader P Jayarajan. The former MLA and former district president of the Students’ Federation of India was attacked by alleged RSS activists in August 1999 at his house at Kathiroor that left him with crippling injuries. And then he himself was named one of the accused in the conspiracy to murder RSS leader Kathiroor Manoj in 2014.
Since then, the aggressive CPM leader’s image has taken a dent and it didn’t help when a division bench of the Kerala High Court refused to stay a single bench’s order to invoke the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against Jayarajan and the other accused.
Most senior CPM leaders in Kerala have staunch fan followings in their respective regions, but P Jayarajan stands out distinctly even among them. He has a ‘PJ Army’ page on Facebook, run by his fans who are his staunch supporters. So when he was denied a seat, the PJ Army criticised the move in public domain, a practice that the CPM does not brook.
Jayarajan’s supporters suspect that chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself is behind the strings being pulled to side-line one of Malabar’s most powerful leaders in the party. But given Pinarayi’s political ascendancy, the PJ Army may be left to fight twin battles – a political one against Pinarayi Vijayan and a legal one to extricate their dear leader from the Kathiroor Manoj murder case.