This hill station, 110-km from Kottayam railway station, is one of the better getaways from the sweltering summer heat of the rest of Kerala. Kumily, known for the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the boating facilities in the Thekkady lake, is one of the few places in Kerala where you can still survive without a fan even in summer.

What is new about the contest in Idukki this time is that there is a new face in the fray for the Congress. In 1999, the Congress had fielded senior party man Professor P.J. Kurian, but the Left Democratic Front (LDF) could successfully utilise the allegations against Professor Kurian in a case related to abuse of a minor girl, and win the seat with a margin of 9,000-odd votes.

Idukki has earned additional attention this time because of the decision of adivasi leader C.K. Janu to contest from here as the Rashtriya Mahasabha candidate.

The Congress has nominated Benny Behanan, who represents a more youthful and non-controversial face for the party.

For the LDF, sitting MP Francis George of the Kerala Congress (J) is defending his turf, while the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded S.T.B. Mohandas, who has a plantation industry background.

Behanan is expected to be a serious contender for two reasons: One, he has a strong relation with the Catholic community which is the single largest group in the constituency, and secondly the Idukki constituency has traditionally favoured the Congress.

Ever since Idukki became a Lok Sabha constituency in 1977, the Left has won only twice here. The first occasion was when M.M. Lawrence of the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM) won the Idukki seat in 1980, and Francis George won it a second time for the Left in 1999.

The Congress feels these two were aberrations and that the Congress and UDF(United Democratic Front) votes will be retrieved by Behanan this time.

On that occasion, the Congress faction under A.K. Antony was with the CPM, along with the Kerala Congress (M), which is why M.M. Lawrence could sail through in the Congress bastion.

However, no one can take the credit away from Francis George for his victory in 1999 and this is what will be troubling the UDF campaign managers in Idukki this time. George emerged winner in 1999 .

Benny Behanan, a former MLA from Paravur, has opted to peg his campaign on the national perspective, pointing out to voters the need to elect Congress "to uphold secularism" in the country.

On the other hand, the LDF is bringing the people's attention to the crisis in the plantation sector which has seen hundreds of labourers thrown out of jobs, especially in the coffee and tea plantations.

CPM leaders are arguing that the UDF government in the state has done precious little to ease the problems faced by the displaced plantation industry workers.

The BJP candidate Mohandas is also focussing on the plantation industry crisis. Mohandas points out that several estates are lying closed in Peermede and that several more are facing closure, and blames the state government of showing no interest in resolving the crisis.

He says the plantation crisis is a national phenomenon and that other states have managed to solve the crisis through negotiations with the Centre.