UDF, LDF battle for Kerala’s 24 million votes (Curtain Raiser) (Election Special)(Superseding earlier copy)

Thiruvananthapuram, April 8: At the end of a long, sustained, acrimonious electoral campaign, the fate of Kerala’s traditional political foes, the Congress-led UDF and the Left-led LDF, will be decided Thursday by some 24 million voters.

Perhaps for the first time in Kerala’s electoral politics, dominated by the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF), the performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is being hotly discussed.

The BJP, which has never won even an assembly seat in Kerala, put up a spirited campaign.

In the outgoing Lok Sabha, the UDF has 16 members and the CPI-M-led LDF has four.

For the Congress, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said the Lok Sabha polls will be a referendum on his governance.

The campaign, which began in the third week of March, was marked by slanging matches on issues ranging from the murder of Left leader T.P. Chandrasekharan, a multi-million-rupee solar scam and a row over the ecology of the Western Ghats.

National leaders who campaigned in Kerala, including the prime minister, touched on these issues.

On the surface, the UDF appears upbeat. The otherwise soft-spoken Defence Minister A.K. Antony went hammer and tongs against the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

Antony ruffled many a Left feather when he called the LDF a non-entity and pointed out that the Left will will only a dozen seats even nationally.

The Communists, especially former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, believe otherwise.

Barring one opinion poll that gave the Left 11 seats in Kerala, all other opinion polls have predicted a clear win for the UDF.

Kerala’s most fierce Lok Sabha battle will be fought at Kollam, where CPI-M politburo member M.A. Baby takes on N.K. Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.

Baby, who expected a cakewalk, got a rude jolt when the RSP, a three decades long ally of the Left, joined forces with the UDF recently.

The other two interesting battles will be fought at Thiruvananthapuram, where union minister Shashi Tharoor is pitted against Bennet Abraham of the CPI and the BJP war horse O. Rajagopal.

At Chalakkudy in Thrissur, veteran comedian and character artiste and Left-backed independent candidate Innocent is taking on Congress veteran P.C. Chacko.

The decision of the CPI-M to field non-party candidates for five of the 15 constituencies it has been allotted has also become an issue.

Kerala has 24,251,942 voters, including 12,570,439 women.

There are 242 male candidates, including 27 women.

IANS