PALA: For 54 years, Pala had only one leader — KM Mani. Five months after his demise, the assembly constituency is set to elect its new representative. Will it continue Mani’s legacy or script a new chapter? It is a tough fight and one has to wait until September 27, the counting day.
The candidates — Jose Tom (UDF), Mani C Kappan (LDF) and N Hari (NDA) — are all confident. Each front has its own share of worries but above all, this election discusses more serious issues which can impact the verdict. Around 60 per cent of the electorate here are rubber farmers and, naturally, the most important issue is the fallen price of rubber. Once a synonym of prosperity, rubber price has plummeted from Rs 250 to Rs 125 per kilogram. Many farmers have stopped tapping while a sizeable number has migrated to other crops like pineapple, coconut, tapioca, plantain and pepper.
“Rubber farming is no longer profitable. The slump in price is unbelievable and has affected the economy of the high ranges,” said Georgekutty, a farmer from Melukavumattom.
“We sell latex to an agency in Thodupuzha, which pays us Rs 110 per kg. We’ve to pay the tapper Rs 2 per tree and the yield from one acre of rubber is less than Rs 8,000 per month,” he said.
The tyre companies have stopped purchasing rubber, leading to piling up of stocks. Prices touched Rs 140 per kg last year making farmers enthusiastic, but now we receive only one or two customers per day,” said Aji Plalickal, a rubber trader. As many as six rubber-trading agencies were shut down in the past one year, he said.
Then there is politic. UDF candidate Jose Tom is optimistic despite Kerala Congress (M) chairman P J Joseph denying him the party symbol (two leaves).
“I represent KM Mani’s legacy. His name is enough for me to garner the support of voters in Pala. Thomas Chazhikadan (UDF candidate) won by 33,472 votes in the Lok Sabha polls and I’m confident of increasing the margin to 50,000. Whatever Pala has is the contribution of Mani Sir and the people of Pala will take this election as an opportunity to pay tributes to their iconic leader,” he said.
LDF candidate Kappan, of the NCP, said Pala would vote for development this time. “The UDF is in a shambles and the Kerala Congress (M) candidate is contesting as an independent. The differences in the UDF will help the LDF and we’ve set the agenda by presenting the LDF government’s progress report. We’re much ahead of the UDF in campaigning and we’ve succeeded in convincing the voters. We’ll win by a comfortable margin,” said Kappan.
N Hari of the BJP claimed the situation in Pala was favourable for the BJP.
“We’re approaching the voters with the list of welfare programmes launched by the Narendra Modi Government at the Centre,” he said. “Besides, former Union minister P C Thomas, who has inherited the Kerala Congress legacy, is with us. Thomas had polled 26,000 votes in the recent Lok Sabha polls from Pala and we’re hoping to double the vote share,”