Kochi, Apr 24: The bar bribery scam and factionalism in CPI(M) are key campaign points as Congress leader K Babu, who had a controversial stint as state Excise Minister and CPI(M) leader M Swaraj, are waging a tough battle for Thrippunithura assembly constituency in Ernakulam district.
BJP is testing its electoral prospects in this Hindu dominated constituency by fielding noted writer and a retired College professor Thuravoor Viswambharan.
While Babu, who has been winning the seat since 1991, said the bar bribery charges levelled against him was a "deliberate political conspiracy by CPI(M)" to tarnish his image, Swaraj claimed that "corruption" is the major poll issue in the constituency.
"Bar owners, who were forced to close down their bars due to the widely hailed liquor policy of the UDF government, are pumping money to defeat me in the elections. The people of Thrippunithura will reject all false propaganda against me. I am confident about my victory," said 64-year-old Babu, who won the 2011 elections by a margin of 15,778 votes against his nearest CPI(M) rival C M Dinesh Mani.
Babu had resigned as excise minister on January 23 this year in the wake of a Vigilance court directing filing of an FIR against him in the bar bribery case. He returned to the Oommen Chandy cabinet on February 1 after the Kerala High Court stayed the order. The resignation of Babu, a close confidant of Chandy, had rattled the UDF government.
Working President of Kerala Bar Owners Association Biju Ramesh had alleged Babu was given Rs 10 crore as bribe for renewal of licences of liquor bars, a charge rubbished by the Congress leader.
"People of Thrippunithura have already taken a decision against the Congress leader who earned a bad name during his controversial stint as Excise Minister. They will definitely vote for me to ensure a clean and transparent LDF government in the state," Swaraj claimed.
Confident about victory of Swaraj (36), who is also state secretary of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), CPI(M) District Secretary P Rajeeve said "Thrippunithura has turned as a capital of Kerala's anti-corruption movement".
"Babu's candidature was even opposed by KPCC president V M Sudheeran on the ground of corruption. People are aware of these things. We have fielded our energetic youth leader to take on Babu," Rajeeve said.
Congress, on the other hand, believes that factionalism in CPI(M) and late entry of Swaraj as the candidate will help Babu retain the seat.
"A strong section of CPI(M) workers in the constituency are not happy with the candidature of Swaraj, a loyalist of Pinarayi Vijayan. It is mainly because of his outbursts against their leader and veteran party leader V S Achuthanandan during the peak of factional feud in the party. Definitely, they will teach a lesson to Swaraj, who humiliated their beloved leader, in this election," a local Congress leader claimed.
Swaraj, however, rejected the charges, pointing out that Achuthanandan himself has stated that it was false propaganda by Babu to deviate attention from issues like corruption.
Admitting that there were "some minor issues" in some local committees of the party in Thrippunithura area, he also said everything has been settled and "all comrades are united against their battle against corruption".
"There are many burning issues directly affecting the people. Many parts of the constituency face drinking water shortage. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.... that is the situation in this constituency. Babu is raising unnecessary issues to hide his inefficiency as a legislator in addressing such issues," Swaraj said.
BJP leader C G Rajagopal said Thrippunithura, which was the capital of erstwhile Kingdom of Cochin, is a famous centre of culture in Kerala and the party has fielded a "cultural icon" to challenge the two "corrupt fronts-- Congress-led UDF and CPI(M)-led LDF" in the elections.
He said Prof Thuravoor Viswambharan is a scholar having wide contacts in the constituency and it would help him win independent votes, besides the party votes.
"Besides, we are contesting elections as NDA and our key partner BDJS, a political offshoot of SNDP, has a strong base in the constituency. So we will be able to rewrite the history of the Constituency this time around," Rajagopal said.