With strong candidates and tough competition, Kerala's Vadakara remain calm before election storm

Politics and a yearning to be free of political violence dominate discussions in the north Malabar constituency amid strong electoral undercurrents.
Customers in front of a fire-cracker outlet at Keezhariyoor near Meppayur on the eve of Vishu.
Customers in front of a fire-cracker outlet at Keezhariyoor near Meppayur on the eve of Vishu.Photo|Vinod Shanmughom

More than a hundred men and a few women make a mad rush for attention in a manner that could put to shame even the most boisterous of crowds in front of beverage outlets. Visibly excited, eyes glittering and gesturing feverishly, they choose, call out to salesmen and point to their favourites. Sparklers, fire-pots, rockets and fountains are the most sought-after.

The past three days have seen an incessant flow of customers to the 10-day-old outlet — Consumer Fire Works — at Keezhariyoor, near Meppayur, en route to Perambra. On the eve of Vishu, people have come from as far as Kozhikode, Mananthavady and Kannur, even as a thick smell of gunpowder envelops the immediate surrounding.

Some outlets in the area register cracker sales to the tune of `7-8 lakh per day. “Last time, we got close to 15,000 requests online asking for an outlet here. Now at least 5,000 people come here daily. In fact, we haven’t been able to close the shop at night for the past three days,” says proprietor Jithesh K T, gesturing towards the scores hovering around the stall.

Ironically, the cracker frenzy seems like the proverbial calm before the storm, waiting to implode and thereby expose the volatile electoral underbelly. What better day to assess the electoral pulse of Vadakara than during this ‘cracker-filled’ Vishu! In an election where the politics of violence has gained unexpected traction, especially after the country bomb blast at Panur, ‘cracker’ markets seem to embody the stark contrasts of the voter psyche.

The notorious killing fields of Kannur often come alive in the pockets of Nadapuram and Panur in the Vadakara parliamentary constituency.

“Show me one person who’s not involved directly or indirectly in bomb-making. It’s almost like a cottage industry there. It’s wrong to point fingers at just one party. All of them engage in bomb-making. Just that only a few are exposed,” avers Vijayan of Pattanippara near Perambra.

Well, he is talking about a country bomb used at Panur to set a trap for wild boars. It is a primitive contraption that often causes more damage to the manufacturers/perpetrators than to the intended targets, in a way symbolising the primitive politics that is being played out in the region. While political vendetta can come in its most basic form here, the recent blast has brought back memories of the once grave political violence scene — especially the T P Chandrasekharan murder. And that could benefit anti-Left political formations in Vadakara, the only constituency that guarantees a bypoll to the state assembly.

The CPM is banking on the popularity of former health minister K K Shailaja even as Congress’ Shafi Parambil enjoys ample support from the Muslim League and the RMP. An upcoming youth icon, Praful Krishna is the NDA candidate in a constituency with around 1.36 lakh new voters.

While the LS seat has traditionally been Left-leaning, the fight this time remains highly unpredictable. Vadakara — where K P Unnikrishnan won as both an LDF and a UDF candidate at different points — has always nurtured its own peculiar brand of socio-political vibes. “Historically, Vadakara has played a crucial role in trade and cultural evolution,” says local historian K M Bharathan, of Malayalam University.

Local residents discuss politics at a market in Kallachi near Nadapuram
Local residents discuss politics at a market in Kallachi near NadapuramPhoto|Vinod Shanmughom

This is also where Kunjali Marakkar led prolonged battles against the Portuguese invasion and many a glorious chapter of the national freedom movement and the Renaissance movement unfolded, he says.

Vadakara has had its own share of uprisings through the Beedi workers’ agitations. The 1948 Onchiyam firing still lingers on in the political consciousness of the voters.

Geographically, the constituency comprises the coastal regions from Koyilandi to Thalassery, high range at Kuttiady and the midlands to its eastern frontier. In more ways than one, the three regions consist of three distinct populations, social formations and culture, even as they share peripheral similarity.

Crossing over to Vadakara from the neighbouring Kozhikode via the Korappuzha bridge, there are viable signs of development. The NH work, envisioned to give a major facelift to northern Malabar, is almost in the final stages. At Kadiyangad junction, a group of old-timers are engaged in animated discussion. “It’s an election that will decide the very essence of our secular identity. Haven’t you seen the surveys? Across the state, there’s just one leader people approve of — it’s Pinarayi Vijayan,” declares 73-year-old Kunju Moideen in all simplicity.

Hoardings of LDF and UDF candidates vie for attention beside posters of the late T P Chandrasekharan
Hoardings of LDF and UDF candidates vie for attention beside posters of the late T P Chandrasekharan Photo|Vinod Shanmughom

“Oh, have you got your pension?” mocks Jayan, a shop owner supporting the saffron front, amidst guffaws. Kelappan, 82, of Arikkulam panchayat, has little doubt of the Left front’s chances: “Our teacher (Shailaja) will win.” On the other hand, V K Chandran of Nachad Vanitha Hotel vouches for Shafi. “Look at the kind of ripples he’s making among the voters,” he points out. At Karandod, shop owner Ammu is busy with the final preparations for Vishu. Though she has clear political leanings, she’s acutely aware of the undercurrents possible. Further down, at Kallachi, four friends — Azeez, Hameed, Majeed and Abdulla — are keenly observing the market. They opine that national and international politics are the discussion points this election. “Issues in the constituency? Politics first, politics second and politics last,” the friends say, almost in a chorus.

At Nadapuram, local residents Sanjeevan and Vinod lament: “Whoever makes bombs, the fact is we end up losing precious lives.”

And the pulse at Onchiyam, once an acclaimed ‘red fort’ but now a painful reminder of the slain leader TP? “We don’t talk politics here. Not that we have consciously kept away from it. In Onchiyam, there is absolutely no need to educate anyone about political violence. Even our kids are aware!” Pavithran’s weary eyes say it all.

Customers in front of a fire-cracker outlet at Keezhariyoor near Meppayur on the eve of Vishu.
Lush greenery, stark misery: Election vignettes from Kerala's Achankovil forest

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express