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SNC Lavalin to dominate Kerala election campaign

Written by: Staff

Thiruvananthapuram, Mar 1: Hardly a few hours before the Election Commission announced a three-phase Assembly poll for Kerala, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy today fired a politcal salvo by referring the controversial SNC Lavalin case to the CBI, setting the tone for a high-pitch electioneering.

Kerala will go to the poll on April 22, April 29 and May three.

The SNC Lavalin deal for the renovation of three hydro-electric power projects in the state was already a major political issue as it was awarded during the tenure of CPI(M) State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan as Power Minister a decade ago.

As a vigilance inquiry failed to name any politician in the list of accused, the Chief Minister shifted Vigilance Director Upendra Verma out of the department and recommended a CBI probe into the matter, with an eye on keeping the issue live during the electioneering.

Of late, it was the SNC Lavalin deal that put the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) on the defensive. The LDF was on a winning spree during the past couple of years, recording thumping victories in Parliament polls, Assembly byelections and local bodies poll.

Besides SNC Lavaline issue, the overall achievements and failures of the Oommen Chandy government and the implementation of the Narendran Commission report on representation of backward classes in government services are the other issues likely to dominate in the campaign. The announcement of the election had prevented the government to announce a wage revision package for its employees.

On the political front, the Democratic Indira Congress(K) of veteran leader K Karunakaran is likely to play a crucial role in the fate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and LDF in a highly bi-polar political scenario.

The DIC(K), formed last year after spliting with the Congress, was hoping for an entry into the LDF, but the CPI(M) state committee took a decision on the contrary. Now, talks were reportedly on to accommodate the DIC(K) into the UDF fold to give a boost to its electoral prospects. After its impressive performance in the previous Lok Sabha elections from the state, the BJP would also hope to open its account in the State Assembly for the first time.

Since the 2001 Assembly elections in which the UDF won 100 out of the 140 seats, political equations have undergone drastic changes.

Congress Working Committee member A K Antony was the Chief Minister for the initial three-and-a-half years and he stepped down owning moral responsibility for the party's debacle in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in which the Congress failed to win even a single seat from the state. The initial years of the Antony government were also dominated by intense group rivalry between the faction identified with him and that of Mr Karunakaran.

Once Mr Chandy came to power, things became difficult for Mr Karunakaran who finally decided to quit the Congress. Kerala Congress (Jacob) also deserted the UDF and merged with the DIC(K).

Another Kerala Congress faction led by Mr R Balakrishna Pillai followed suit, but returned to the UDF later when the former Minister, facing some corruption cases, realised that he was no longer acceptable in the Opposition camp.

The Revolutionary Socialist Party(B) also suffered a split with a faction headed by Prof A V Thamarakshan opting out of the UDF.

A top minister of the Indian Union Muslim League, the second largest constituent of the ruling front, had to step down after some allegations were levelled against him by a victim of a sex scandal.

Two other ministers -- Forest Minister K P Vishwanathan and Health Minister K K Ramachandran -- also quit from the Chandy Government.

Mr Viswanathan resigned following the remarks passed by the High Court suggesting that he had links with sandalwood mafia. Mr Ramachandran had to quit following allegations against him and his office.

Parties in the Opposition camp had also suffered vertical splits, but all of them remained with the LDF.

The emergence of the BJP as a force to reckon with in the 2004 Lok Sabha election was a notable change in the Kerala political scenario. The party-backed candidate P C Thomas recorded a surprise victory. In Thiruvananthapuram, BJP candidate and former Union Minister O Rajagopal registered an impressive performance as the party secured majority in two Assembly segments and finished second in another two.

However, bitter infighting saw the party nose diving to its worst ever performance in the recent Lok Sabha byelection in Thiruvananthapuram.

The fratricidal war in the party saw its candidate C K Padmanabhan, a former president of the state unit, losing his deposit. CPI candidate Pannyan Ravindran won the seat by a margin of nearly 74,200 votes over his Congress rival V S Sivakumar.


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