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Congress & Left Fight It Out, BJP Eyes the Elusive Win: Key Contests in Kerala

Voting on all the 20 parliamentary seats in Kerala are now underway.

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Elections
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Voting on the 20 parliamentary constituencies in Kerala are now underway in the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) – which are part of the national Opposition alliance called INDIA – are fighting it out in Kerala. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), meanwhile, is desperately trying to make inroads in a state where it hasn't had much luck electorally.

While most seats will witness a UDF versus LDF fight, the BJP has emerged as a key third player in a few seats – Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur being the major ones.

Kerala will also see some battles of the bigwigs – Congress leader Rahul Gandhi versus CPI leader Annie Raja in Wayanad, three-time MP Shashi Tharoor versus Union Minister of State Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Thiruvananthapuram, AICC general secretary KC Venugopal versus sitting CPI(M) MP AM Ariff, to name a few.

Here are the key seats and contests to watch out for:

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Thrissur

Thrissur is one of the few constituencies in Kerala witnessing three-way fight between the UDF, the LDF, and the BJP. Notably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Thrissur thrice this year, where the party has fielded actor and former Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi.

Gopi contested in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly elections but came third both times. However, the party's vote share in the Parliamentary constituency increased from 4.45 percent in the 2014 to 17.04 percent in 2019.

Wary of the BJP's concerted efforts to gain footing in Thrissur – where PM Modi has promised a Union Minister – the Congress has fielded sitting Vadakara MP K Muraleedharan, whose late father K Karunakaran was the Chief Minister of Kerala.

Muraleedharan, who belongs to the dominant Nair caste like Gopi, is known among the party cadre as someone who contests from "crisis seats."

The LDF, which has a significant presence in the Assembly constituencies of Thrissur, has fielded former MLA and CPI leader VS Sunil Kumar, who is seen as a "people's person." However, anti-incumbency against the Pinarayi Vijayan government in the state may hinder Sunil Kumar's prospects, as per political observers.

Another interesting aspect of the fight is the BJP's appeasement of the Christian community in Thrissur alongside the dominant caste Hindus. You can read more about this in our ground report from Thrissur here.

Wayanad

Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency – which covers three Assembly segments in Wayanad district, three in Malappuram, and one in Kozhikode – shot to political prominence in 2019 when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi contested from here as his backup seat.

Though he lost Amethi to Smriti Irani, Gandhi won by a whopping margin on 4.5 lakh votes in Wayanad. While the Congress leader may retain this UDF bastion, as per political experts, his initial appeal has waned.

"In 2019, the electoral contest was seen as a friendly battle between Gandhi and LDF's candidate PP Suneer. Moreover, the Congress leader was perceived as a prime ministerial candidate then," observed a senior journalist, who did not wish to be named.

Despite his minimal presence in Wayanad, Gandhi is still perceived as an alternative to Modi among voters. But the CPI fielding national leader Annie Raja, whose husband is party general secretary D Raja, may put a dent in his vote share, the senior journalist opined. Annie, a Kannur native, has positioned herself as a "rooted politician," despite her national status.

The BJP, which has fielded party state president K Surendran, is trying to capitalise on two national leaders of the INDIA bloc fighting it out in Wayanad. He also proposed renaming Sultan Bathery, a central town in Wayanad, as 'Ganapathy Vattom' – as it has connections to 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.

Experts, however, say "a communal move" such as this may backfire as the constituency has a significant population of minorities and tribal communities.

The burning poll issue in Wayanad, however, is the growing attacks on people and crops by wild animals. You can read our ground report on the human-wildlife conflict in the constituency here.

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Thiruvananthapuram

Three-time MP Shashi Tharoor is taking on BJP leader and Union Minister of State Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram. A three-way fight is expected here as well, with the LDF fielding former CPI MP Pannyan Raveendran, who has positioned himself as an underdog who knows the local pulse.

The BJP is trying to capture the votes of the middle class and the dominant caste Hindus in urban Thiruvananthapuram, while also appealing to the coastal regions of the state, where Latin Catholic Christians form a majority.

In 2014, when veteran BJP leader O Rajagopal was contesting against Tharoor, he was able to make considerable headway in the urban areas. The minorities and the coastal voters have largely stood by Tharoor but anti-incumbency in the light of the anti-Vizhinjam port protests in 2022 may put a dent in the Congress leader's vote share.

You can watch our ground report from this region below:

While Chandrasekhar – who is contesting his maiden poll – may still be perceived as an "unfamiliar face" in Thiruvananthapuram and lacks the "local connect" that Rajagopal possessed, his "Union Minister for Thiruvananthapuram" pitch has takers in the segment, as per political experts. Watch our interview with Chandrasekhar below:

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Alappuzha

AICC general secretary and the Gandhis' right-hand man KC Venugopal has returned to contest from the Alappuzha seat, where he was MP from 2009 to 2019. He is taking on sitting CPI(M) MP AM Ariff who defeated the UDF's candidate, Shanimol Usman, in 2019 by a slender margin of over 10,000 votes.

Venugopal had taken break that election due to his organisational responsibilities.

In fact, Alappuzha was the only seat the LDF won in the 2019 polls; the UDF swept the remaining 19 seats. Alappuzha, therefore, is a prestige battle for both the UDF and the LDF.

The third key player in the fray is the BJP's Shobha Surendran, who has raised the party's vote share wherever she has contested. She was also a key figure in the 2018 Sabarimala protests.

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Pathanamthitta

Pathanamthitta – home to the Sabarimala temple – was a keenly watched constituency in 2019 as the elections came close on the heels of the Sabarimala protests against the temple entry of women in 2018.

BJP state chief K Surendran contested from the constituency. Though he came third, losing to the UDF's Anto Antony, the party's vote share rose by 13 percent.

This time, too, the constituency is witnessing an interesting contest as the BJP has fielded Anil Antony, the son of veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister AK Antony. Anil moved to the BJP last year, much to the displeasure of Congress leaders, including his father.

Pathanamthitta, which has a significant population of Christians, is a Congress bastion where leaders like AK Antony and Oommen Chandy have wielded a lot of influence, making it doubly difficult for the BJP to make inroads here.

Moreover, Anto Antony has retained this seat since 2009.

The CPI(M)'s Thomas Isaac, who was previously the state finance minister, is also in the fray, but he may be facing a perception battle owing to an anti-incumbency against the state government.

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Vadakara

The LDF is pinning its hopes on the Vadakara constituency where it has fielded popular leader KK Shailaja, who, during her stint as Kerala's health minister, had dealt with various health emergencies, including the Nipah outbreak and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shailaja Teacher, as she is popularly known, had the highest victory margin of 60,000 votes in the 2021 Assembly elections from Kannur's Mattanur constituency.

But the UDF, too, has a formidable candidate in Vadakara, Shafi Parambil, who is the sitting MLA of Palakkad. Sitting Vadakara MP K Muraleedharan was moved to Thrissur.

Vadakara's battle will also largely be influenced by its political history.

A Left bastion and safe seat from 1996 to 2009, Vadakara was claimed by the Congress after CPI(M) rebel leader TP Chandrasekharan – who broke away from the party and formed the Revolutionary Marxist Party – contested from the seat, leading to an alleged split in votes.

In one of the most sensational crimes in the history of Kerala politics, Chandrasekharan was murdered in 2012 – and this year, local CPI(M) leaders were convicted by the Kerala High Court of murdering him. It is yet to be seen if this sentiment will sway voters away from Shailaja Teacher's popularity.

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