With polling in the Aruvikara assembly by-election scheduled for June 27, it’s more or less a battle between two political veterans of Kerala – 71-year-old Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his predecessor, the 91-year-old communist leader V.S. Achuthanandan.
The election was necessitated after senior Congress leader and assembly speaker G. Karthikeyan died in March.
It has now become a battle between the two because they themselves have decided to lead from the front – as they have been doing for the past 11 years, engaged in a one-to-one battle with the rest of the rival front’s leaders lining up behind them.
Their intense political rivalry started when Chandy replaced A.K.Antony as chief minister in 2004. Achuthanandan was leader of the opposition at that time.
Since then, they have twice swapped positions, the first time in 2006 when Achuthanandan became chief minister for the first time; then in 2011 when Chandy replaced him after the Congress-led alliance swept back to power.
Over these 11 years, the duo has clashed on numerous occasions, both inside and outside the assembly. Both have contrasting personalities – Chandy always genial and sporting a big smile, Achuthanandan mostly looking tough and rarely sporting a smile. Still, people will go the last mile to listen to Achuthanandan’s political speeches as he often hits below the belt, especially at his political adversaries, with Chandy being his favourite punching bag.
While Achuthanandan has been to Aruvikara once, Chandy has been there thrice and the crowds they drew were massive, making them the most wanted campaigners for their party candidates.
In the coming days too, both have drawn up numerous meetings to make this a real one-to-one between them.
In the fray are Karthikeyan’s younger son, 31-year-old K.S. Sabarinathan, an engineer and also a management graduate who quit a plum job. He was essentially fielded to evoke the sympathy factor at a time when the Chandy government, in the past four years, has faced numerous allegations of corruption. Besides, the opposition wants to carry forward the legacy of his father, who has represented the rural constituency in the capital district for the past 24 years.
The CPI-M has fielded its best bet, 65-year-old M. Vijayakumar, who has been a minister and the assembly speaker in the past. His advantage is that he hails from this constituency. Also, way back in 1987, in his debut election Vijayakumar defeated Karthikeyan from a different constituency in the capital district.
The BJP has fielded its seniormost veteran, 85-year-old O. Rajagopal, always the first choice the moment an election is announced as it is felt that he is one person who will enable the party to open its account in Kerala.
And hence he has contested the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat thrice – in 1999, 2004 and 2014, besides the assembly polls in 2006 and 2011 and an assembly byelection in 2012 – but only ended up on the losing side.
Chandy has already said that the election would be a litmus test not only for the government but also for the opposition.
“The people will elect Sabarinathan as they know what this government has done in the past four years,” Chandy said.
Achuthanandan has however asked the electorate to give a “fitting reply” to the “worst ever” government the state has seen as it is neck-deep in corruption.
“The people of Aruvikara should show the exit door to the worst government that the state has seen and it can be done by voting for Vijayakumar,” Achuthanandan said.
Sixteen candidates are left in the fray with the last date for withdrawing nominations being Saturday. The electorate in the constituency stands at 177,594, up from 165,638 in 2011, when Karthikeyan won by over 10,000 votes.
The votes will be counted on June 30.