KOCHI: Chalakudy is a tricky parliamentary constituency for the candidates to reach out to voters geographically; in some parts, it stretches deep into the Ernakulam constituency so much so that posters of both the Ernakulam and the Chalakudy candidates are visible in many areas. Small wonder then that Ernakulam BJP candidate Alphonse Kannamthanam campaigned in Chalakudy constituency by mistake.
But like any other constituency in Kerala, the people here are politically aware even as issues like the distress in the farm sector, the slowdown in the local economy and impact of floods are still playing in the minds of the voters ahead of the election day.
BT Chacko, a farmer in his 70s, who cultivates some 15 acres of land in Vattaparambu near Angamaly, did not suppress his anger and disappointment about the complete disregard shown by the Left government on his crop losses from the last year’s flood. “I’ve spent Rs 80,000 for tapioca farming and put 2,000 tilapia fish for rearing. I had nutmeg cultivation too. Everything got wiped off during the flood,” he says. He has made up his mind to vote for Benny Behnan, the Congress candidate. “I have incurred losses of over several lakhs. The cash compensation of Rs 10,000, handed out by the government, is just pittance,” says Chacko as he unloads a sack of long beans at a VFPCK (Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam) store at Nedumbassery. Despite the moratorium on bank loans, Chacko says he’s being harassed by the bankers. “Even yesterday, officers from Angamaly Gramin Bank visited us. I’ve told them to take whatever they can,” he says.
At Chengamanad, the situation changes a bit, and there’s a strong sense among the voters that Innocent, the sitting MP is contesting on the CPM symbol this election, has struck a “deal” to ensure his candidature. Outside the ration shop (Public Distribution Store) in Chengamanad town, elders are involved in a heated debate on the Lok Sabha elections and the local politics. “We will see a strong fight by Innocent. This is not going to be easy for Benny Behnan,” says Mohanan, an elderly man in his late 70s. Venugopalan Nair, who engages in the friendly political discourse, outside the ration shop begs to differ. “He (Mohanan) is a party man (meaning a committed CPM supporter). That’s why he thinks Innocent will win. The entire Chengamanad is a Congress area,” he says. However, they agree on one thing. “Sabarimala is not at all an issue here,” they both say in unison.
Chalakudy LS constituency came into being in 2008 following the delimitation of the parliamentary constituency, which resulted in the dissolving of the Mukundapuram LS seat. “Most times we have sent the Congress to the Parliament from here. Congress leaders like K Karunakaran, Savithri Lakshmanan, AC Jose have won from Mukundapuram. Innocent’s win was a fluke. This time he will not repeat the victory,” Nair teases Mohanan.
At Perumbavoor, famed for the wood industry and the hub of migrant workers, the mood is against the Central government policies. “The note ban wrecked the plywood sector. While the business is down, the transaction is again mostly in cash,” says Amjad Ali, owner of MAM Plywood. And the election season has also seen 30 of his workers from Assam returning to their native place for voting. “If we don’t register our votes, we are told that it will affect our citizenship,” says Nassir Hussain, a young worker at MAM. He is a first-time voter and he has booked a flight to Assam.
Far way in the other end of the constituency at Kolencherry, a group of 30 families have decided to boycott the polls. “At Adoor Kara, near the BPCL plant in Ambalamugal, the PDPP project has destroyed many hills. Earlier, only oil refining was the only major risk for the residents. But now, it’s petrochemical and ‘cracking at molecular level in reactors’ are affecting the environment,” says Pramod Luckose, president of the resident association.