Kerala polls: In Malabar, Left & Congress fight to retain strongholds
In the sleepy village named Third Mile in Pinarayi, the home of CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan, a percussion band is ratcheting up the decibels with its drums made of metal. Well known novelist M.Mukundan has arrived there to whip up support for Vijayan, who himself will not be attending the roadside meeting. Mukundan is part of a group of writers, which includes KR Meera, Sahitiya Akademi award winner shortlisted for the DSC Jaipur Lit prize for Hangwoman, who have come to Pinarayi in the last week to support the CPI(M) leader.
"Pinarayi must become chief minister if the existing chaos of God's Own Country has to change and women have to feel secure," Mukundan said at the meeting.
Outside, a CPI(M) poster with the inevitable picture of Che Guevara, announces proudly: "This village has no caste or communal enmity. This is a communist village. This village will remain Red for ever".
On the face of it it looks like Pinarayi or the Dharmadom constituency, which it is a part of, will remain with its favourite Marxist leader who won by 14,000 votes last time. The Dharmadom constituency along with neighbouring Kannur is the ground zero of Marxism in Kerala.
But things are not that easy with the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) hoping to make the most of what Shashi Tharoor in a meeting in Thrissur on 3 May called "unprecedented development in Kerala over the last 5 years".
This new development model, a combination of big projects, IT industry-centred cities and better highways, is what the Congress believes will help it break Kerala's cyclical electoral habit of pushing out the incumbent Malappuram.
At a 9 pm roadside meeting in Chelembra in Malappuram district, this is the same theme that Indian Union Muslim League candidate Abdul Hameed, tells the small crowd gathered there. "Malappuram was a poor district but now we have come out of our poverty. Our school passing out results are in the 90 percents, there are huge number of colleges and institutes in the district, the roads here are all rubberised, we pushed the Kannur airport project" he tells this reporter after the meeting gets over and the lights have dimmed. "We won 14 out of the 16 seats in this district and this time we will take all 16."
The UDF hopes Malappuram will again stop the Red wave coming from the north. But this time there are other electoral calculations that are at play: The ambitious assault by the BJP in the state. "The LDF and the UDF will be thrown into the Arabian Sea. That is the BJP's only agenda," Amit Shah declared in Kochi, in an effort to instil some more verve into their campaign that has so far floundered against the mighty Congress and CPI(M) walls. The BJP has planned a series of high adrenaline meetings in Kerala with Narendra Modi scheduled to speak in six or seven constituencies.
With the BJP getting more aggressive there is a feeling that a crucial number of Muslim votes will shift to the CPI(M) from the Congress. A section of Muslim voters believe that the CPI(M) is better placed to stop the rise of the BJP in Northern Kerala where there has been on ongoing bloody battle between the RSS and the CPI(M) over the years.
The CPI(M), many believe will fight the RSS on the streets as well, if they try to put a divisive strategy to play among a highly politicised electorate. In that case it would mean that with every rise in BJP voting percentage, the CPI(M) will gain as a Muslim counter-strategy.
But it is not that simple. If there is ground level indication that the Muslims in Malappuram or districts further south are moving towards the CPI(M) in a strategic voting bid to stop the RSS-BJP rise, then there will be some level of Hindu consolidation for the BJP as well. In Malappuram, the BJP had 4.6% votes in the 2014 polls compared to 54.02% for the UDF and 36.94% for the Left. BJP is a rank outsider so far.
For the first time there is an undercurrent of uncertainty as the both the major fronts battle it out in Malabar. It is today a bitter ideological battle zone between the Left, the Centre and the outsider Right which is going to play spoiler. The huge and affluent Malabar Muslim population will have a tough call to take.