Even though they have hit the campaign trail for the by-poll to the Chengannur assembly constituency, candidates of three rival fronts are getting a bit restless as the Election Commission is yet to announce the date for the much-awaited electoral contest. The by-election was necessitated by the death of Communist Party of India (CPI-M) legislator K.K. Ramachandran Nair in January. Chengannur constituency falls in Alappuzha district, considered the bastion of the CPI-M-led Left Front, which has eight of nine Assembly seats here under its belt. The ninth, Haripad, was won by Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress.
Expectations were high that the date would be announced along with the schedule for the Karnataka assembly polls, but it was not to be. Contrary to what is often seen in Kerala, this time the Congress was the first to announce its candidate — D. Vijayakumar, a party veteran born and brought up in Chengannur, who has been eyeing this seat for the past quarter of a century. He had to face a small challenge from his daughter, but the party finally decided to give the seat to him as he knows the constituency like the back of his palm.
Then came the announcement by the CPI-M that it is fielding Alappuzha district party secretary Saji Cheriyan, who has had an outing here in the past but was defeated. And the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on expected lines, has named another local personality and the former state party chief P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, who in the 2016 Assembly polls put up an unexpectedly strong showing and came a close third to the sitting Congress legislator P.C. Vishnunath, who lost to Nair of the CPI-M. Nair secured 52,880 votes, Vishnunath 44,987 votes and Pillai 42,682 votes.
Barring the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Kerala’s traditional rivals — the ruling Left Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) — have held their opening election conventions. The NDA is still trying to put its house in order as the second biggest ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), the political arm of the SNDP, an organisation that works predominantly for the backward Ezhavas, is feeling disgruntled.
The BDJS is said to be unhappy with the BJP as it is yet to get the posts “promised” to it when it decided to join the NDA in 2015. However, although the poll date is yet to be announced, all three candidates have begun their campaigns which includes house visits, family get-togethers, besides holding of wayside meetings.
Over the past two days, all the three candidates made it a point to be present in churches in the constituency during the “Passion Week” prayer sessions. And they made it to Easter Sunday mass as well. The star campaigner of the UDF is none other than former chief minister Oommen Chandy. He is spending most of his time in the constituency trying to build bridges with the strong Christian community, which for some reason is believed to have taken an anti-Congress stand in the 2016 assembly election in which the party lost to the Left Front.
“I am slated to visit Dubai on the 5th and 6th of April, but that visit will stand cancelled if the date of polls are announced as not a single minute of the campaign can be wasted. I am committed to devoting the maximum time for the campaign,” Chandy told IANS, adding that the delay in announcement is a cause of a worry. BJP candidate Pillai, however, said that it was understandable that his rival candidates have openly expressed their reservations on the delay in announcing the poll dates. “While they rely on money to be spent for campaigning, I feel the delay for me is a good thing as my style of campaign is to meet each and every voter personally.
“And for that I don’t need to spend money. I feel that there is no better campaign than connecting personally with my voters and, hence, I do not have a problem with the date not being announced,” said Pillai. Cheriyan, the CPI-M candidate, said: “We waiting to hear the election date, as we can then plan the campaign in detail. Hopefully, there will not be any more delay in knowing the date of the poll.”