Thiruvananthapuram: After a high decibel 40-day-long campaign, Kerala will go to single-phase polls on Tuesday with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Union minister Alphons Kannamthanam and sitting MP Shashi Tharoor among those whose fortunes will be decided.
It is a do-or-die battle for both the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF and opposition Congress-headed UDF in most of the 20 Lok Sabha seats this time in the state, known for its decades-long bipolar politics.
The BJP-led NDA is posing a formidable challenge to the two traditional fronts in at least three constituencies — Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur. The saffron party is hoping to capitalise on the Sabarimala women entry issue and ensure the Lotus blooms this time from the state in the Lower House of Parliament.
A key seat will be Wayanad from where Rahul Gandhi is contesting besides his pocket borough Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, Thiruvananthapuram where Tharoor is eyeing a hat-trick and Ernakulam, the coastal city from where Kannamthanam is seeking to make his Lok Sabha debut.
The Sabarimala temple issue is a major poll plank of BJP as the party sought to attack the CPI-M led LDF government. The state witnessed massive protests after the LDF government decided to implement the September 28 Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa shrine, setting aside the traditional ban.
Senior BJP leader Kummanam Rajashekharan, who resigned as Mizoram Governor to test electoral waters, is giving a tough fight to former union minister and well-known author Tharoor, who is aiming for a hatrick of wins from the state capital.
The acrimonious campaign saw Prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah going on a blitzkrieg as the saffron party seeks to gain a foothold in the state. Modi has avoided any direct reference to Sabarimala or Lord Ayyappa, apparently to avoid any violation of election code.
He, however, assured the people of the state that the BJP would do everything from court to the Constitution to protect the traditions and beliefs of the people if voted to power. Modi attacked Rahul Gandhi for contesting from Wayanad, saying his choice of the constituency was not to send any message to the people of South India as the latter's party has been claiming, but a "message for appeasement politics".
The Left parties have taken exception to Gandhi's nomination from Wayanad, saying it defeated the goal of forming a formidable alliance against the BJP. Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were the star campaigners of the Congress while UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi kept away from the heat and dust of the poll arena in the state.
Wayanad, considered a Congress stronghold, was represented by its late leader M I Shanavas in 2014 and 2009. Another constituency in limelight — Vatakara — where K Muraleedharan of the Congress is pitted against CPI(M) strongman and its former Kannur district secretary, P Jayarajan, is all set for a photo finish.
CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, Polit bureau members Prakash Karat and Brinda Karat, CPI leaders Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja were among those who crisscrossed the state canvassing for the LDF, which has a lot at stake in Kerala — the last Communist bastion.
Nine MLAs, 13 sitting MPs, including Gandhi, and two actors (Suresh Gopi and Innocent) are among those fighting the polls. A total of 227 candidates are in the fray and they include six women nominees from various political parties.
Wayanad has the maximum number of candidates at 20 and while Alathur in Palakkad district the lowest of 6. Police have identified 4,482 sensitive polling stations out of which 162 are considered Left-wing extremists-affected.
According to Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena, 817 booths are listed as critical polling stations and 425 as vulnerable booths. Fifty-seven companies of central forces and over 4,700 security personnel have been deployed across the state for the elections.
There are 2.61 crore voters — 1,26,81,992 males, 1,34,64,688 females and 173 third gender voters. The strength of first-time voters in Kerala is over two lakh in the age group of 18-19. The campaign ended with massive road shows the three fronts but marred by incidents of violence in several places causing injuries to several persons Sunday evening.
Kozhikode district administration has imposed prohibitory orders in certain parts of Vatakara constituency from 6 pm Tuesday to 10 pm the next day to prevent post-election violence in sensitive areas. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the UDF had won 12 seats and LDF 8.
(With inputs from PTI)