8888677771 | Half century later, Cong turf Puthuppally may see a contest, and CPM has smelled blood | Political Pulse News

For 53 years, the Puthuppally Assembly constituency in Kerala has thrown up no poll surprises. These days, it is hard to believe that.

The bonhomie of the Congress and CPI(M) at the INDIA Mumbai meeting is a long way from here, with the two parties the main contestants in the bypoll.

The Congress has fielded Chandy’s son and Youth Congress leader Chandy Oommen, while the CPI(M) candidate is Jaick C Thomas, a central committee member of its own youth wing, Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).

The BJP may barely register a presence on the ballot, but on the field, it is as visible as the other two as it campaigns for its candidate and Kottayam district president, G Lijin Lal. A 17-member group of state leaders is camping here, under the leadership of the party Kerala co-in-charge, Radha Mohan Das Agarwal. Senior leaders, including Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, have addressed family gatherings at the booth level.

The ruling CPI(M)’s narrative is development, with the theme of its campaign being that Puthuppally has been deprived of the progress that the rest of Kerala has seen, by putting all its eggs in the Congress basket. Party leaders highlight the development initiatives under the LDF regime in Kerala since 2016 – reinforced by several “micro-level development conventions” the party has held here – and contrast it with “the lack of proper infrastructure and basic amenities” in Puthuppally.

Apart from the prestige battle, for Pinarayi, it is a chance to further demonstrate his hold on the state. In the last two weeks, the CM has visited the constituency thrice, and attended public meetings in all eight village panchayats.

The Congress knows it has no better card than the lasting affection for Chandy, lovingly called Kunjoonju here, by locals cutting across political and religious lines. Since his death last month, villagers have ensured that the candles at his grave in Puthuppally have never gone out. The party is projecting Chandy Junior as the extension of his father.

As the campaign enters the last lap, those who are carrying the Congress baton include CWC members Shashi Tharoor and K C Venugopal. Even an ailing A K Antony, a close associate of Chandy, addressed a Congress convention in Puthuppally on Friday. This was an important message from the party as Antony’s son Anil, a newly appointed BJP national secretary, is touring Puthuppally highlighting the achievements of the Modi government.

The reason the Congress is not taking it easy, and the CPI(M) is giving the fight its all, is that despite Puthuppally being a Congress stronghold, the CPI(M) has a strong party machinery in the constituency. Six out of eight local self-governing bodies here are ruled by the LDF.

Its candidate Thomas also has the experience of fighting two elections from the Assembly seat, in 2016 and 2021. While he lost both times to Chandy, in 2021, he finished just 10,000 votes behind the Congress veteran – the lowest victory margin for Chandy in three decades. Many in the CPI(M) believe that with Chandy’s passing, it is a level playing field in Puthuppally.

Another factor in this is that while the Chandy family belongs to the Orthodox Christian Church, Thomas is from the rival Jacobite segment, who are expected to rally behind him, like in 2021.

Addressing a campaign meeting in Puthuppally Wednesday, CM Pinarayi said: “Kerala has a government which is committed to the people. Puthuppally should move along with Kerala.” He also accused the Congress of “compromising” with communal forces, pointing to the party coming together with the BJP at Kidangoor, a nearby panchayat where the Congress is ruling with the support of the BJP, in an arrangement not uncommon at local levels.

Pinarayi also blames the Congress for the crisis in the rubber sector, a major source of income locally, citing the ASEAN pact.

Chandy Oommen counters this, saying: “If there was no development in Puthuppally, how did my father get elected in all the elections ever since 1970? He brought development to the constituency and the Kottayam district… The constituency now has educational facilities from LKG to post-graduation in engineering. People still love my father. His face is etched in the minds of the people of Puthuppally. Nobody can erase it,’’ Chandy Junior says.

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The Congress’s Leader of the Opposition, V D Satheesan, says they are not worried. “The people of Puthuppally will give a fitting reply to the corrupt CPI(M) government. Vijayan is silent on the allegations levelled against his family,” he says, adding that the CPI(M) continues to be afraid of the late Oommen Chandy.

The BJP’s plank is the achievements of the NDA government at the Centre. The party has also taken potshots at the CPI(M) and Congress being partners nationally. Senior party leader and Union minister V Muraleedharan says the NDA is facing “an alliance of the CPI(M) and Congress in Puthuppally”.

However, the continuing Manipur violence, which has also seen damage to several churches, is expected to hurt the BJP among the Christian voters, who hold considerable sway in Puthuppally.

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