“Today, all my friends are interested in my constituency because Sreedharan sir is contesting from here,” says Sreelakshmi. “They ask me whether my city is also now on the fast track to development.”
Sreedharan has been keeping his campaign the way he planned it. There is added pressure on the party’s district leadership to reach out to every voter and micro-manage the poll campaign. After all, the ‘top leadership’ is looking for nothing short of a grand victory.
“We need to bring in a new work culture. When projects are planned, it should be done within the costs planned. You can’t squander public money by postponing projects for years- a bypass takes 40 years to get completed, and one RO-RO, five years. For Palakkad, I have a development plan and I will be around to ensure that it gets done,” says Sreedharan, whose campaign is centred around meetings with smaller gatherings enhanced by social media in contrast to door-to-door and shop-to-shop efforts of the other two fronts.
Though both UDF and LDF believe Sreedharan’s style of campaigning will not fetch him “political” votes, they are not taking him for granted. While the constituencies in Palakkad district have always favoured LDF, the popularity of UDF’s two-time MLA Shafi Parambil and the fact that BJP bagged the municipality in the recent elections have raised questions about its “winnability” this time. All three sides in the triangular contest throw around numbers and specificities like rural-urban and panchayat-municipality divides. While two panchayats are with LDF, one is in UDF’s control and BJP leads in the municipality but by a margin of only 2,600 votes.
LDF’s advocate C P Pramod comes from a political family his grandfather Kunhiraman master had served as Malampuzha MLA and father E Padmanabhan was the MLA of Sreekrishnapuram. As state secretary of All India lawyers’ Union, he also enjoys the support of the lawyer community.
On whether consolidation of minority votes will help UDF, he says: “There’s no such consolidation in Palakkad. We have only “political consolidation” here. Though BJP has won the municipality, it does not have much presence in panchayats,” says Pramod. “In the past nine elections, only the elections in 2016 have been different. So don’t read too much into it. There were several factors other than the Modi wave that helped UDF to win and Shobha Surendran to come second. It is just an aberration,” says Pramod.
The issues being raised at the local level are on the state of public utilities. The congested roads and traffic, state of the KSRTC bus stand, the condition of the Town Hall, water scarcity are among those issues highlighted by all parties.
Though sitting MLA Shafi Paramambil’s candidature had faced opposition from AV Gopinath, he has been pacified. A familiar and local face, Shafi’s youth and vigour are drawing crowds and he is confident of a repeat of 2011 and 2016. “I have been here with the people of this constituency as one among them. They know me and have approached me for all their needs. As an opposition MLA, the government has always dilly-dallied on the projects that I proposed. In fact, on the KSRTC building construction, the minister has on record in the assembly acknowledged that I had made an all-out effort for its revival,” he says.
The constituency has caught the nation’s attention. Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi have already finished one round of campaigning. Sitaram Yechury and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are scheduled to arrive on April 30. The roadshows will be kicked off for the last push even as there is no respite from the scorching summer. While BJP is banking on Sreedharan, LDF is resting its hopes on the government’s “excellent performance”.