Congress' general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
Congress' general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra waves at the crowd during an election campaign rally in the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency, at Pulpalli in Wayanad, on Saturday, April 20, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Kozhikode: The politically volatile north Kerala is witnessing a fierce battle between the ruling CPI (M)-led LDF and the opposition Congress-headed UDF in the three Lok Sabha constituencies — Vadakara, Kannur and Kasaragod — to wrest them from the rival front in the April 23 election.

While the main battle is between the two fronts in Kerala, the BJP has emerged as a significant player after extending support to the Sabarimala devotees. How the saffron party fares in the bipolar polity of the southern state is being keenly watched by political observers.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded its strongman P. Jayarajan to reclaim Vadakara from state Congress chief Mullappally Ramachandran who had won the seat with a meagre margin of around 3,300 votes in 2014.

Jayarajan, CPI (M)’s former district secretary in Kannur, has a considerable clout among the party cadre, prompting the Congress to find a heavyweight to take him on.

But Congress, in a surprise move, picked K. Muraleedheeran, after two-time sitting MP Ramachandran opted out of race, to take on Jayarajan, making it an interesting constituency.

Muraleedheeran is a three-time MP, incumbent MLA from Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram district and son of former chief minister K. Karunakaran.

Vadakara is a Left bastion, which it won first in 1980 and is holding since.

The CPI (M) is troubled by rebellion within this time and also by the decade-old Revolutionary Marxist Party founded by late T.P. Chandrasekharan after quitting the Marxist party.

Muraleedheeran, the Congress candidate, has RMP’s support.

The BJP has re-nominated V.K. Sajeevan from Vadakara, who had secured over 76,000 votes in 2014.

Both Congress and BJP have called for a vote against the violent politics of CPI (M).

“We are fighting against the politics of violence played by Left,” Muraleedheeran said.

But Jayarajan is trying to counter that narrative by saying that he himself is a victim of violence. In August 1999, assailants attacked Jayarajan with knives and machetes in which he was grievously injured.

“I am being referred to as ‘Kamsa’ and Keechaka (Hindu mythology characters), but it was me who was attacked and hacked by the Sangh Parivar,” Jayarajan has said, reminding the people of the constituency of the incident.

Muraleedheeran said he is confident about the prospects of Congress also because party president Rahul Gandhi has chosen Wayanad in Kerala as his second Lok Sabha constituency to contest the poll. “This will help improving the prospects of Congress in the state,” he said.

Kannur, a constituency adjacent to Vadakara, is expected to witness a replay of the 2014 poll battle as temperatures soar ahead of the arrival of the annual monsoon.

Incumbent P.K. Sreemathy, of the CPI (M), has a campaign planned to avoid the midday heat. Her party has ensured she has to campaign from 8.30am to 11am and then again from 3pm onwards, according to CPI (M) workers.

She is highlighting the development work carried out the Left Front government.

Congress leader K. Sudhakaran, from whom Sreemathy wrested the seat with a margin of around 6,500 votes last time, too has made Left’s violent politics a poll plank to seek votes.

The BJP has fielded C.K. Padmanabhan, a familiar political face in Kerala who is banking on the achievements of the Modi government.

Kasaragod, towards the northern edge of Kerala surrounded by the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, is considered the “red fort” of CPI (M). The last time Left was defeated here was in 1984.

Congress is aiming to make use of the sympathy generated after the killing of its two youth workers in Periya area in February. Police said the killings were politically motivated.

Rahul Gandhi said he will “not rest till the murderers are brought to justice”. The Congress later fielded senior party leader Rajmohan Unnithan from the constituency.

“I am a popular face in the state. I have acted in over 20 movies. I am confident Congress will be able to wrest Kasaragod from Left,” Unnithan has said during his election campaign.

To keep its bastion intact, the Left party has fielded former member of legislative assembly K.P. Satheesh Chandran from Kasaragod, thrice represented by veteran A.K. Gopalan.

Even though CPI (M) has claimed it has no role in the killing of the workers, the Left was unable to project its innocence over the crime allegedly committed by one of its local leader.

BJP has fielded Ravish Tantri, a Hindu hardliner, to gain momentum in Manjeshwaram and Kasaragod assembly segments, forming part of the Kasaragod parliamentary constituency.

Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad has visibly lifted the spirits of Congress workers in all other constituencies but angered the Left.