The municipality of Pala, traditionally a United Democratic Front (UDF) bastion, has become electorally significant over decades not because of itself, but as a showcase of the Kerala Congress’s power.
During the previous local body elections, the Kerala Congress (M) contested in as many as 20 out of the 26 seats here and won 17. But as the civic body is set to elect a new council next month, the schism in the regional party and the consequent emergence of an alternative political force in the rubber heartland, has put it at the centre of a high-stakes battle.
With the Jose K. Mani group fielding candidates in 16 wards and P.J. Joseph group in 13, the municipality has become the stage for a direct clash between the splinter groups that were fighting hard to claim the legacy of K.M. Mani — the KC(M) patriarch. Among these, they have squared up to each other in seven wards, including Munnani where two potential chairman candidates — Kuriakose Padavan of the UDF and Anto Padinjarekkara of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) — are fighting each other.
A victory will help the respective KC(M) side stabilise its position within the coalition while also showing the other as weak and inconsequential.
As the contest with respect to the legacy of the KC(M) settled in its favour for the time being, the Mani group that contests under the party symbol ‘two leaves’ has the initial edge. But the UDF too has put up a united front, keen not to lose its position as the traditional favourite.
The Congress, meanwhile, is the biggest gainer as it contests from 13 seats this time as against six in 2015. The CPI(M), on the other hand, has given up as many as eight seats to accommodate the Mani group.
“The voters of Pala, who are perdominantly pro-UDF, have a clear understanding on the circumstances that led to the loss of the ‘two leaves’ symbol,” explained Mr. Padavan, a Joseph group strongman. He also exuded confidence over the coalition romping home once again on the back of a slew of welfare and development projects implemented by the previous council.
The Mani group, on the other hand, regards itself to be in an advantageous situation with the support of the Left coalition, which currently holds the Assembly constituency, including the Pala municipality. “The re-alignment move will only help raise our vote-share while the High Court order allotting the party symbol has given us the initial push,” said Sunny Thekkedam, district president of the KC(M) Mani group.
Meanwhile, both the coalitions cannot afford to ignore the presence of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is out to prove a point in at least a couple of wards. Though the party had won a seat in the previous council, the councillor later switched sides to the LDF.