As you pass through the Kozhikode parliamentary constituency to enter the picturesque green terrain of Wayanad, you witness a sea change in the election mood.
Unlike previous elections, the Kozhikode constituency, where sitting member of parliament M.K. Raghavan is locked in a close fight with the CPM’s state assembly member Pradeep Kumar, is without much fanfare. There are not many huge posters, flex boards or election campaign vehicles on the roads.
In Kozhikode, the temperature is still above 30 degree Celsius, but Wayanad, a popular tourist destination on a hilltop, is comparatively cool now. In the evenings, the temperature comes down close to 22 degree Celsius in the area. However, the election atmosphere is different.
After Congress chief Rahul Gandhi picked Wayanad as one of his constituencies, the campaign has heated up. Unlike the political situation nationwide, at Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi is not facing an opponent from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress Party’s arch rival. Here, Rahul’s main opponent P.P. Suneer belongs to one of his party’s potential post-poll ally, the Communist Party of India.
The Wayanad constituency starts even before you enter the district. Other than three assembly constituencies from Wayanad district – Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Sultan Bathery – the parliamentary constituency has three assembly segments from Malappuram district – Nilambur, Wandoor and Eranad – and one from Kozhikode district – Thiruvambady.
Beside the tea estates near Meppady town is a tribal settlement named Kadachikkunnu. Binu, who worked as a tribal promoter among around 50 families, says Rahul’s entry into the poll fray has changed all the real-life issues of the tribal people. “Most state government and local body schemes are reaching the real beneficiaries now. Still we have got many other issues to be solved. After Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad, the sole point of discussion is national politics and the importance of his candidature. Issues related to the tribal and other poor people have gone into oblivion.”
And once you talk to other people outside the settlement, it becomes clearer. At a tea shop near the town, the topic of discussion is the Congress chief’s decision to contest from Wayanad. A group of elderly men, who have different party allegiance, have no difference of opinion on Rahul’s winning chances.
“I have always voted for the Left. But this time, I think the Congress has the seat in its hands. The Left had an advantage when they announced the candidate first and later when the Congress delayed announcing its candidate. The confusion and factional issues inside the Congress gave an upper hand to the Left Front. However, by declaring Rahul as the candidate, the Congress-led UDF managed to overcome it. Now, if you ask people around here, nobody will have the courage to honestly say that the CPI candidate has any chance,” said septuagenarian Abdullakkutty while sipping his tea. Others didn’t hesitate to give a nod to what he said.
There is no direct challenge to Rahul from the BJP as the saffron party doesn’t have a candidate against the Congress president. In Wayanad, the NDA has fielded Thushar Vellappally, the chief of its ally Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and an influential Ezhava community leader.
“I think there will be vote flow from both the sides in favour of Rahul Gandhi. All my family members are BJP supporters. But my mother says she will vote for Rahul,” says Jishnu, who works with a major hospital in Wayanad. Asked if he would also switch sides to vote for Rahul, Jishnu said with a smile: “Maybe, this is an opportunity to bring in some real development to the district.”
So, it will be the Rahul factor that decides the poll result, at least in Wayanad district. But 13 more days are left for the elections and even a small incident can turn things upside down. That’s what his opponents are hoping for now.