The upcoming local body elections will determine not only the parties that will govern the State at the grassroots but also the future of the Kerala Congress (M) led by Jose K. Mani.
The election, coming on the heels of the decision by the regional party to break its nearly four-decade association with the United Democratic Front, will be fierce in the central Travancore region as the stakes are high for Mr. Mani to prove his worth within the Left Democratic Front.
The Congress, on the other hand, is set to take on its estranged ally in its bastion with support of veteran Kerala Congress (M) leader P.J. Joseph.
In fact, the hectic political activity that has engulfed the region following the sudden shift in political equations is evident from the continuous flow of workers at the grassroots level between the Kerala Congress splinter groups, to the Congress, and in the reverse direction.
Key to gauging the impact of this phenomenon will be the results from the local bodies that fall in the five Assembly constituencies of Pala, Kaduthuruthy, Kanjirappally, Changanassery, and Poonjar.
The battle, however, is expected to be most intense in the Pala municipality, the home town of K.M. Mani, founder leader of the KC(M). In the previous election, the UDF had won 20 of the 26 wards in the civic body, with the KC(M) winning 17 seats.
The UDF counts on staging a tough fight under Kuriakose Padavan, a KC leader owing allegiance to the Joseph group, in Pala. Seven councillors led by Mr. Padavan had shifted loyalties to the Joseph group after the party’s split last year.
The UDF is hopeful that the traditional vote base of the Kerala Congress — a cross-section of farmer, Christian, and upper class communities — will keep its distance from the LDF. The Mani group, on the other hand, counts on wooing voters on the back of a few government decisions, including the approval granted to appointments of schoolteachers in aided schools.
“Our shift to the LDF marks a change in the voting culture of central Travancore. However, we have initiated campaigns at the grassroots level to explain to our voters the factors that necessitated this change, which also included back-stabbing by a section in the Congress,” Thomas Chazhikadan, MP, senior Mani group leader, said.
The Congress, however, is confident that the chaotic exit of the Mani group has created an unbridgeable fissure in the Kerala Congress vote base. “This indeed presents us a golden opportunity to overcome the discontentment among its workers about playing second fiddle to a regional party in the district,” a Congress leader said.