You may call it a David and Goliath battle, but the Left parties in Wayanad want to bust a myth this time – that the hilly terrain is a safe bet for the Congress-led front. Wearing an unperturbed face, the major constituents in the Left Democratic Front (LDF) – the CPM and the CPI – say in unison that Wayanad will be the Waterloo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Wayanad rose to national prominence after Rahul Gandhi chose it as the second seat to contest apart from family fiefdom of Amethi.
Since then, the otherwise sleepy district, known for its scenic locales enriched by forest cover and vast tribal population, has become a national hot spot.
What would have been written off as a low-profile contest between mainly the Congress and the CPI has now become a matter of prestige for both the ruling LDF and the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala.
While UDF wants to ensure that Rahul wins with a brute majority, the LDF is working overtime to prove that nothing is impossible in politics. If Indira Gandhi can lose from Rae Bareily, why can't Rahul be defeated in Wayanad, the LDF asks.
As against an allegedly complacent UDF machinery, the LDF camp is turbo-charged across the constituency to nullify what the Congress hails as a Rahul wave.
None other than CPM stalwart and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan led from the front, when he said for the LDF, Rahul is just one among the 20 UDF candidates in the state.
Tall political statements apart, it's a fact that the LDF was shocked and annoyed by Rahul's decision to contest from Kerala, their last citadel in terms of electoral politics.
However, what's notable is that after expressing their angst in a vitriolic manner at first, including an editorial in bad taste in CPM mouthpiece Deshabhimani, the LDF was quick to rise up to the occasion and make it a political fight in Wayanad.
Focus on farm issues
With Rahul's decision to contest from Wayanad, the LDF leadership was forced to bring in some drastic changes in campaign strategy.
They had to target Rahul politically and the best way they found was to blame the Congress and its chief for the agrarian distress in the district, where farming is the vocation and livelihood for over 90 per cent of the population.
“Rahul is liable to answer some questions that we ask. It was the neoliberal economic policies initiated by the Congress government in 1990s that led to the agrarian distress in Wayanad. As part of the policies, India was opened to the world market and import taxes were slashed. These adversely affected the farming sector,” CPI state assistant secretary Sathyan Mokeri told Onmanorama.
Mokeri, who was the vanquished in the last elections, pointed out the drastic fall in the prices of coffee, tea, rubber and pepper.
He said Pulppally, which was the richest area in Wayanad once, has collapsed absolutely due to the ill-conceived economic policies of the successive governments at the Centre.
It was no coincidence that the LDF chose Pulppally and Nilambur to hold a 'farmers' parliament' against Rahul Gandhi.
Mokeri said over 3,000 farmers had committed suicide in Wayanad after 1990s. The official figure is 965, he said.
Mokeri blamed Rahul for supporting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which, according to the Left, adversely affected livestock sector in Wayanad.
The LDF is trying to take this farm centric narrative to the masses in all possible ways.
Apart from that they also highlight the initiatives taken by successive Left governments in Kerala to safeguard the interests of the farmers.
Mokeri said the V S Achuthanandan-led government (2006-11) had effectively addressed the farm distress in Wayanad.
“People's representatives from the Left parties visited the houses of the farmers who committed suicide. The VS government established a commission for farm loan relief (Karshaka Kadaswasa Commission) and declared Wayanad as a distress area,” he said.
However, a section of farmers whom Onmanorama spoke to later alleged that the commission had been ineffective of late.
Kalpetta MLA and CPM leader C K Saseendran said the LDF has gone much ahead of the UDF in campaigning, highlighting issues concerning the people, mostly farmers.
He alleges that the candidature of Rahul would only help the corporates.
Asked how his party had addressed the farm issues in the past three years, when he had been the MLA, he listed out projects such as opening the carbon neutral coffee marketing factory and Brahmgiri Development Society, which is Asia's biggest meat processing unit.
He also said his government has been providing subsidies for cattle farmers.
Saseendran's confidence was at its peak when he said Wayanad would be the biggest newsmaker after the polls.
“We will defeat Rahul,” he said.
Rahul may be keeping mum on the Left parties, especially the CPM, in his poll rallies, but LDF candidate and CPI leader P P Suneer is not impressed by what the Congress calls a dignified silence.
“Rahul is not answering our questions. This is not a beauty pageant. A political fight is on in Wayanad,” he told Onmanorama. He said it was due to political bankruptcy that Rahul was keeping mum on the Left.
The LDF has completed four rounds of door-to-door campaign. First they distributed a statement issued by the LDF convener and then a leaflet which exposes the faults of the Congress and the BJP.
They also arranged farmers' parliament at Pulpally and Nilambur and oragnised a mega squad that posed 10 questions to Rahul.
A letter from the candidate was also distributed among the voters.
The LDF also brought senior Left leaders including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy, CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury to Wayanad.
Yechury's schedule for Kerala campaigning was reportedly revised to include Wayanad in it after Rahul became the UDF candidate.
The Left leaders in Wayanad hope that a large section of the young voters, who found the Left as the only force to fight against the Sangh Parivar, would cast their votes for Suneer, the CPI candidate.
The CPM, which leads the LDF, has taken Wayanad as a battle of prestige that it has taken the total charge of the campaigning.
A CPM activist Onmanorama spoke to confessed on condition of anonymity that the party is more active on the campaign front in Wayanad this time compared to the previous elections. It is likely to help the Left front consolidate as many votes as possible, he said.
Can the Left defeat Rahul?
Though several senior leaders make tall claims about an upset in Wayanad, reactions from the ground signal that it would be a colossal task.
There is a feeling among political circles that the Left's actual plan is to bring down Rahul's victory margin as much as possible.
The UDF camp is hopeful of gaining a lead of over two lakh votes, a claim rubbished by the Left.
“Even if Rahul wins his victory margin will be less than 1 lakh votes,” a CPM activist told Onmanorama, adding that the LDF would come ahead in at least two assembly constituencies –- Mananthavady and Bathery.
Sreejith Sivaraman, a CPM activist and assistant professor at St Mary's College, Sulthan Bathery, was confident of an upset in Wayanad.
He had a reason to say that. “Unlike in the other 19 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala, Wayanad is a constituency where the fight is absolutely political. Irrespective of the parties they support, most of the voters here view the poll as a political fight. In such circumstances, it's advantage LDF,” he said.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has no tall claims to lord over this hilly district bordering Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Over to the polling booths, where voters would have a final word on lofty claims and counter claims.