Picture courtesy: The Hindu
Wayanad, a picturesque district in Northeast Kerala, located on high up on the Western Ghat, has catapulted in national limelight after Congress President Rahul Gandhi deciding to contest from this scenic constituency. He filed his nomination from the seat on Thursday.
Wayanad, which sits comfortably on the tri-junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, is a tourist paradise. But its beauty aside, Wayanad was not exactly grabbing eyeballs during the general elections, until on March 31, when Congress announced that Gandhi will contest from this constituency in addition to Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Though Wayanad was under active consideration for many days, the decision was nonetheless surprising as Rahul Gandhi’s principal opponent would not be at the national level ideological rival BJP, but the Left party.
Interesting is why the Congress decided to field Gandhi from Wayanad. It has been argued that the Congress President’s candidature could influence the party’s support base and galvanize the party workers not just in Kerala but also neighboring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The decision is seen an attempt by the Congress to consolidate its electoral base in South India especially in Kerala which has 20 Lok Sabha seats, Tamil Nadu has 39 seats and Karnataka 28.
Kerala Congress unit also believes that Gandhi contesting from Wayanad will provide an impetus to the party’s footprint in south India.
This is a message to the southern state that they are deeply valued and respected. Congress President Rahul Gandhi has said he will represent Amethi but also represent southern states as they are the important part of India’s way of life, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had said.
Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency is spread across three revenue districts- Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram and comprises seven Assembly seats.
Wayanad came into being in 2009 after the delimitation of constituencies in 2008.
The first MP from Wayanad was senior Congress leader MI Shanavas, who had won with a huge margin of 1.5 lakh votes defeating CPI’s M Rahmatulla.
Shanavas had retained the seat in 2014 Lok Sabha polls but with a relatively low victory margin of 20,000 votes.
In November 2018, about six months ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Shanavas died at the age of 67 years.
In that sense, picking Wayanad as Rahul Gandhi’s constituency is a careful choice as is the calibrated demand to have him contest from a south Indian seat apart from Amethi where he faces union minister Smriti Irani.
In 2014, the Congress secured 41 percent votes while the CPI got 39 percent. It is no wonder then that the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala is livid over Gandhi contesting from Wayanad and see it as a challenge to them than to any other party in the state.
The LDF has announced CPI’s P P Suneer as its candidate from Wayanad while the BJP announced that its ally, the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) candidate Thushar Vellappally would be NDA candidate against Gandhi.
Wayanad has a strong pro-Congress voter base and Muslims and Christians form over 50 percent of the vote bank. This district has also a mix of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community. The Indian Union Muslim League, the second biggest partner in UDF, has considerable clout here.
Gandhi, who has positioned as a champion of farmers and agricultural laborers, can impress voters who are largely farmers and plantation worker in Wayanad.
Also, Congress leaders in Kerala feel Gandhi’s stand against demonetization and GST will gain currency among state holder of the tourism industry.
With only 3.86 percent of people living in urban areas, a major chunk is involved in farming activities in Wayanad. Rural distress, hence, is a major issue in the area. Pepper and coffee are major crops which were affected adversely during August 2018 floods that ravaged Kerala.
But the Congress’ decision has not gone well with the LDF and the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan saying Gandhi contesting from Wayanad is an attempt t attack the Left in the state and not the BJP.
The BJP went hammer and tongs and accused the Congress President of being a ‘fugitive’ who is no longer sure of success from Amethi and hence has chosen a “safe” seat. All eyes will be on Wayanad when it goes to polls on April 23.