THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As political tea leaf readers would agree, power can rest on a precarious pivot. Both the Congress-led ruling United Democratic Front and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front in Kerala are locked in a grim battle to win Piravom, the constituency that fell vacant since the death of former food and civil supplies minister T M Jacob. The Chandy government is surviving on a slender majority. In a House of 140, the UDF has 72 seats and LDF 68. The Kerala Congress to which Jacob belonged is one among the partners of UDF. Now UDF is in power with only 71 members—a majority of one—and the byelection scheduled for March 17 will be a turning point for both political formulations in the state.
So, it is no wonder, the bypoll has become the scene of a larger battle. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram indirectly accused the CPI(M) in Kerala of fuelling Mullaperiyar fears with Piravom in mind. Even more fantastic is the Italian media blaming the bypoll for transforming a ‘minor’ situation into a ‘complex’ one—the Enrica Lexie case (shooting of two fishermen by Italian seamen in the high seas.)
Monday’s report from Rome claimed Italian Foreign Minister Guilio Terzi had picked up the bypoll angle from his Indian counterpart. Doubts linger at least in some quarters, however, as some look askance at the large contingent from Kerala that turned up in the Vatican for Archbishop Mar George Alencherry’s ordination as Cardinal. With Wednesday’s thunderbolt from Agencia Fides that the same Cardinal promised to intervene in the Enrica Lexie case, the subsequent denial from Kochi notwithstanding, the Italian angle looks set to become a poll issue.
The poll outcome may finally be decided by how the two feuding Christian factions—the Jacobite and the Orthodox—decide to respond over the unresolved ownership dispute of some seven churches in this constituency. No wonder then that the UDF is working round the clock to de-escalate the tension ahead of the polls, just as it did to quickly resolve the long-standing nurses stir in a couple of hospitals in the adjoining area.
Talk to the two Jacobs fighting it out—the veteran of three battles M J Jacob of the CPI(M) and Congress’s debutant candidate and T M Jacob’s son Anoop—both claim they would rather look beyond the national and international issues. Campaigning in the intense pre-summer heat, Jacob says, “I’m more a doer than a talker and Piravom knows this. What I did in five years as MLA is not inferior to what the UDF did during five full terms. It was the delimitation of the constituency that undid me last April but the 157-vote deficit came amid the UDF sweeping Ernakulam district. I won’t fish in troubled waters– neither the Jacobite-Orthodox church stand-off nor the Mullaperiyar issue. Piravom will vote for
Later in the day, young Anoop Jacob takes a short break at Ramamangalam near Koothattukulam to air his views on why he will win hands down: “We did not do our homework last time and my father was not keeping well. I want to complete the development projects that UDF started. Piravom will be a referendum of the less than a-year-old UDF government but regional issues too will be decisive. Mullaperiyar would not be a major poll issue.”
The UDF is highlighting its welfare activities implemented by the Government in the poll campaign. The LDF is focusing on the farmer suicides, the rising prices of essential commodities, electricity surcharge and the various scams. Oommen Chandy has already declared that the election would be a referendum on his government’s performance.