Around hundred people have turned up at Polekadavu, some on the street and others at an adjacent small vacant plot, where a meeting is about to begin. Almost half an hour behind schedule, Manu C. Pulickal, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate in Aroor Assembly constituency, arrives in a specially designed open vehicle to a rousing welcome from left workers at 4.15 p.m. Mr. Pulickal alights from the vehicle, then waves and shakes hands with people as he makes his way to the venue.
In a brief speech, the LDF candidate is focussing on the development works carried out by the LDF government in the State and in Aroor constituency in particular. “We have launched projects to end drinking water problem in the region, brought electricity to all households and upgraded schools. I promise, I will work to ensure overall development of the constituency, if elected,” he says.
Mr. Pulickal, 36, CPI(M) district secretariat member and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) State vice president, who is contesting his first Assembly election, is facing a tough challenge in Aroor. Of the five constituencies going to bypolls on October 21, Aroor is LDF’s sole sitting seat.
In the Lok Sabha polls, the United Democratic Front (UDF) had gained an upper hand in the segment with a lead of 648 votes. Although considered as a red bastion, the CPI(M) is, however, leaving nothing to chance.
Its well-oiled election machinery comprising of ministers, senior leaders and members of sister organisations are working hard, addressing public meetings, organising street plays and door-to-door campaigns, to regain the turf ceded to the opponents in the Lok Sabha elections.
Dark clouds begin to hover over Vaduthala Junction. A small crowd comprising mainly Congress local leaders and workers are gathering under a roadside tree, the venue of reception for UDF candidate Shanimol Usman. Upon her arrival, she is greeted with the accompaniment of chenda melam. Ms. Usman, contesting the second election in the last six months, hugs a couple of children at the venue. The microphone is handed over to her. “I will stand among you, in your joys and sorrows. I appeal to you to vote for Congress in the election,” says a confident looking Ms. Usman.
The Congress sees the byelection as a unique chance to wrest the Aroor seat from the LDF. Although Ms. Usman, 53, lost the Parliament election to A.M. Ariff of the CPI(M) in Alappuzha, her performance in the Aroor Assembly segment represented by Mr. Ariff as MLA gives her immense hope of registering an upset victory in the bypoll.
The UDF is raising lack of development, plight of coir workers, police case registered against Ms. Usman under non-bailable sections for disrupting a road repair work, ‘Putanas’ remark made by Public Works Minister G. Sudhakaran along with government’s non-performance and corruption to woo voters. It is using the controversy surrounding the alleged feast arranged by the family of the LDF candidate for the soldiers of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, who led the police firing that killed hundreds of poor people and farmers at Vayalar and Punnapra in 1946 to smack the LDF in the electioneering front.
With an eye on the majority Hindu votes, both the UDF and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are highlighting the Sabarimala issue.
NDA candidate K.P. Prakash Babu, 39, of the BJP too is engaged in a spirited campaign. However, given the uneasy relationship between the BJP and Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), two NDA constituents, it is to be seen whether the front would be able to repeat its past performance.