Kozhikode: “We can afford to lose any Lok Sabha seat in Kerala, not Vadakara,” this was what a top Congress leader told Onmanorama on the day K Muraleedharan's candidature was announced by the party on March 20.
The Congress leader had enough reasons to make this statement. Because the party's Lok Sabha election campaign plan in North Kerala was centred around the Periya murders. Youth Congress workers Sarath Lal, 24, and Kripesh, 19, were hacked to death on February 17 at Periya in Kasaragod district while they were returning home on a two-wheeler.
After the brutal killings allegedly by CPM men, the Congress has done all it can to edge out all other issues, including Sabarimala, and bring political violence to the forefront of the campaign. So, Congress's must-win seat should be Kasaragod as Periya comes under this constituency. But it is from Vadakara that P Jayarajan, the man, Congress says, embodies CPM's brand of murder politics, seeks mandate. “A defeat in Vadakara will be seen as a triumph of the blood and gore politics that the CPM indulges in,” the leader told Onmanorama.
It was this desperation to win, beating seemingly impossible odds, that made Vadakara candidate selection the most problematic, and therefore the most time-consuming for Congress. The decision to field Muraleedharan was made just when the delay began to look politically suicidal for the party, but the late strike produced some wondrous results for Congress with Karunakaran's son turning out to be, perhaps, the only candidate of 'Congress cadre' in Kerala. He was fielded after a consensus eluded the 'A' and 'I' factions of the party.
There was clamour from the party workers that a strong candidate was needed in Vadakara and that was how after much deliberations, Muraleedharan was chosen.
Trailing Muraleedharan the whole day during his campaign was like attending a pledge ceremony against violence every 10 minutes.
Wherever he addressed a gathering, Muraleedharan read out a list of names of youngsters killed by the CPM -– Ariyil Shukkoor, TP Chandrasekharan, SP Shuhaib, Kripesh and Sharathlal. This is the way he reminded people about the politics of violence unleashed by CPM in Kerala.
“We won't vote for the killers. We don't want any killers to represent us,” the mothers who gathered at street gatherings told mediapersons in Muraleedharan's presence.
“There might be cases in my name, but they are for participating in the Day-Night protest, not on murder charges. I don't have any case like the CPM leaders. No mother lost her sons because of me, no wife turned to widow because of me,” he said, addressing gatherings at several places.
More than the Congress cadre, it was the workers of ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), who greeted him in many places on April 2, the day Onmanorama trailed him.
It was a show similar to that of his arrival and rousing welcome at Vadakara railway station on March 21 after being chosen as the candidate.
Muraleedharan was a bit late to arrive at the Koyilandy harbour, the first destination point.
The previous day's election work had ended late in the night.
The visit of the candidate was scheduled at 6:30am and the fisherfolk had arrived to see the candidate.
Muraleedharan's convoy, accompanied by mediapersons, arrived in Koyilandy by around 9am from his residence in Kozhikode.
As soon as Muraleedharan got out of the car, the crowd began to shout slogans hailing the candidate.
Murali then mingled with the crowd and personally greeted and shook hands with each of them.
“Hope he would not repeat what Shashi Tharoor did,” someone was whispering.
That was a jibe at UDF's Thiruvananthapuram candidate and sitting MP, Tharoor, whose 'squeamishly' tweet after visiting a fish market, had triggered a row. Tharoor later retracted his statement and said his tweet was misunderstood.
Murali, on the other hand, smiled at each of the fishermen gathered. He spoke just a few words: “You should help us... hope you know things”.
He was then garlanded by leaders of the All-India Fishermen Congress.
A group of fishermen raised their demands to the candidate and sought his support, once he is elected.
“Definitely, we will stand by you. Our president (Rahul Gandhi), had announced at the Fishermen Congress that a separate ministry would be initiated for fisheries once UPA comes to power. Now that the fishermen's issues are under the ministry of agriculture, these are being neglected, especially fund allocation. All such issues would be solved once a separate ministry is formed,” Murali said.
After greeting everyone at the harbour, he moved to the Koyilandy market premises and greeted the merchants and shoppers at each shop.
Next on agenda was a visit to the house of a senior leader of IUML, K Ibrahim master, who was bed-ridden.
Murali and his aides had breakfast from another IUML leader V K Ibrahim's house.
They then went to Koyilandy bus stand. As soon as the passengers recognised him, some men came forward to greet him.
There were requests for selfies from some women and youngsters. He smiled and obliged.
From the bus stand, the candidate went directly to the Koyilandy sub court, where he was greeted by members of Indian Lawyers Congress, with bouquets of yellow Konnappoo (Cassia Fistula).
It was around 10:30am and the lawyers had started arriving. Murali patiently waited on the court premises. The change in his body language was visible when he reached the court, as compared to the harbour, where he was freely interacting with each one gathered.
The convoy moved to two colleges nearby – Madrasatul Badaria college and Kahalfan Quran Study Centre.
Even the smaller children from the study centre came out to click pictures with the candidate and shook hands with him.
A week back, Murali was stopped by Students Federation of India (SFI) activists, the student outfit of the CPM, at government college Perambra.
No campaign trip to Koyilandy is complete without visiting NEST palliative care centre.
Murali stepped into the centre and met the mothers and specially-abled children, who arrived for treatment and classes there. NEST also trains the specially-abled children on skill development.
The next destination was the house of an ailing former Panchayat president. At Vayanari Ramakrishnan's house, a picture of Karunakaran greeted Murali in the front room. After spending 10 minutes there, he left to visit another elderly party leader Iyyanchery Veerankutty's house.
The heat outside was severe and the aides had already alerted the candidate that it was time to reschedule the personal visits and avoid walking in broad daylight. A public event was going on at Government Girls' Higher Secondary School, Koyilandy.
Murali made his presence felt at the compound by talking to the students at the venue.
He later attended a family gathering at Kuruvangad Central, where families from three wards nearby were present.
After spending nearly 15 minutes at the family gathering, Murali left to visit the lighting division of Keltron, India's first public sector electronics corporation.
The employees garlanded him and invited him to the office. By 1 pm, the campaign party reached Rajani's house. She is a Congress leader and ward member in Hill Bazaar.
When the crowds gathered, Murali addressed them and flayed the BJP government at the Centre and the CPM dispensation in the state.
“After the election, the president would invite the party with highest number of MPs to form the government. There will be (Narendra) Modi on one side and Rahul (Gandhi) on the other side. The President will ask: Which side are you? On Rahul's side or on Modi's side? I will loudly say, I am on Rahul's side. Can any MP from the LDF say that aloud? They are confused. They might not say anything. Even their silence can add more weightage to Modi. So, if you want to have a government at the Centre without Modi, you have to support the UDF. Each vote for me, is a vote for a stable secular and democratic government,” Murali said.
The candidate took a break for lunch at the house of a UDF worker nearby.
Ooralloor, a small village, was getting ready to welcome the candidate. Songs hailing 'martyrs' were being aired.
Villagers and party workers arrived in large numbers. They held the tricolour flags of the Congress and green flags of the IUML.
The open vehicle for the candidate was ready for the road show.
Murali, who reached at 4:30pm, was received by Kuttiady MLA Parakkal Abdulla, who had vigorously campaigned for Murali's candidature in Vadakara.
A large number of women and children were seen waving to Murali during the road show from Oorallur to Velliyoor.
Youngsters celebrated the arrival of Murali by bursting crackers.
The campaign in Koyilandy proved that Murali is still a crowd puller in Kozhikode despite his prolonged absence here after he became the legislator from Vattiyoorkavu .
At Velliyoor a huge number of women voters had gathered and declared that they are against politics of violence.
Murali wrapped up a hectic day of campaigning after meeting them.