KASARAGOD: The CPM sprung a surprise by fielding Shankar Rai M,59, -- a grassroots politician and cultural activist with a strong Kannada connect -- for the byelection in Manjeshwar. Rai has been at the forefront of several of the CPM’s unsuccessful strategies to make inroads into the Kannada-speaking regions of Manjeshwar.
The RSS-controlled Sangh Parivar organisations, including the BJP, have a firm grip on the Kannada-speaking community. “One section of Tulunad is fiercely secular. We are looking forward to their support. And also the UDF voters,” said CPM leader K P Satheesh Chandran. “This base ensured the victory of (C H) Kunhambu in 2006,” he said. According to CPM leaders, Rai fits the bill to appeal to voters in the two camps. He comes from a traditional Communist family. His father Thimmanna Rai is a traditional medical practitioner. He has been a Yakshagana and theatre artiste for the past 41 years. Also, he was the president of the state government’s Yakshagana Kalashetram.
He is known to deliver satirical stump speeches in Kannada, Tulu, and Malayalam; and knows Hindi, English, and Arabic. “But above all, he is connected to the people and that will hold him in good stead in this election,” said Satheesh Chandran. As a measure of his reach, the CPM said he is also the president of the Delampady Maligeshwar temple committee.
Rai, who started his campaign as soon as party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan announced his name, has the same view. “I am from Manjeshwar and that brightens my chances,” he said. Though the LDF will have to fight the BJP in the constituency, the UDF is the main rival, he said, hinting that he will be eyeing the votes of the UDF supporters. Politically, Rai is a member of the CPM’s district committee. He was a member of the District Panchayat board between 2010 and 2015, and member of the block panchayat from 2005 to 2010.
A LISTLESS SHOWING
The LDF is a distant third in the constituency and to climb up from the position is not easy, considering the polarised electorate in Manjeshwar. In a bid to reverse the fortunes, the CPM started ‘Tulunadu Times’ in 2015. The aim was to prevent the surge of fundamentalism. Shankar Rai was made the editor and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury launched the evening daily with much fanfare on August 15, 2015. In a little over a year, the paper folded up. The region is fed by Kannada newspapers with an ideology in sync with that of the RSS’. On the other end of the spectrum, newspapers run by Muslim managements too have takers, squeezing out the Left space. This gets reflected during voting, too. “Did you think Rajmohan Unnithan will win?” said Satheesh Chandran.